Marketers need to think beyond Google and other search engines with their search marketing strategies, and start to look at social networking sites as search engines.
When you think about search engines, you probably think immediately about Google. Then perhaps Yahoo and Bing come to mind. If you were prompted to think of more, perhaps Ask.com and AOL Search might also be on the list.
Can you think of any others? What other sites do you regularly perform searches on?
What about YouTube? Facebook? Twitter? Craigslist?
As social networks become entrenched in our digital lives, they are beginning to overtake the time spent using search engines.
Social Networks Versus Search Engines
On that note, let's consider the relationship between social networking sites and search engines.
As per the chart below, Hitwise reported earlier this year that in the U.K., social networking visits have exceeded visits to search engines.
But the problem with this study is that it considered search engines to be only those "pureplay" search engines like Google.
What about all of the searches that take place constantly on social networks? Should they not also be considered a form of a search engine?
The reality is that search engines are now becoming ubiquitous…they are not just the Google's of the world – search is taking place across the Web; it's everywhere.
So instead of pitting search engines against social networks, we can instead talk about the potential of social networks as search engines.
Social Networks as Search Engines
ComScore has clearly recognized that not all searches are conducted within the traditional "core" search landscape; users are now conducting searches on a variety of destinations online.
In 2010, comScore added a new component to its monthly search rankings report. The "Expanded Search Rankings" report looks beyond just the "core" search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) to determine which sites on the entire "world wide web" are producing the most search queries.
Looking at comScore's Search Rankings report from June 2010, there are some interesting trends.
Not surprisingly, Google still tops the list, but what may be surprising to some of you is that YouTube is just behind it. If you haven't got the memo, YouTube has the second largest share of search queries in the U.S.
As you go further down the list, Craigslist (no. 6), Facebook (no. 9), and MySpace (no. 12) all make an appearance. In fact, comScore reported that Facebook experienced over 620 million searches! And now that Facebook has teamed up with Bing to enhance its search functionality, we can expect the volume of queries on Facebook to increase.
Now of course, that's nothing compared to Google's 14.6 billion in that same month, but the trend here is clear – people are increasingly searching on social networks.
Implications for Marketers
Does this mean that you should forgo your search marketing strategies to invest solely in social networking sites? Absolutely not.
Users are undertaking searches on social network sites to find specific things to be sure, and some of that is very relevant for businesses. While users may be looking for friend's reviews on a new product via Facebook, or the latest news from their favorite brand via tweets, they will never be able to find all the information they would ever need within their social network of choice.
Social networks are not designed to cover the entire Web – at least not yet. They operate within their universe and serve up results that are available within their network or networks. Whereas engines like Google crawl the entire Web and therefore have a lot more value to offer based on the depth and breadth of their index. Google isn't going anywhere, despite the increasing "socialization of search."
The key takeaway is that marketers now need to think beyond Google and the other "core" search engines with their search marketing strategies. Think about how you might optimize your content for the various social networks, as they have the potential to be an additional source of traffic for your business.
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Julie is a member of the senior strategy team at Klick Health, focused on online media and digital. Julie initially established and led the media practice at Klick for several years, relinquishing leadership to expand beyond media into additional digital tactics. She brings a wealth of experience in search marketing, digital media, and all facets of digital strategy to bear, helping Klick's clients develop innovative digital solutions. As her role has evolved, so have her contributions to ClickZ, which she has been writing for since 2007.
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