How do you find people, businesses or topics on social networks? The logical thing to do is use the built in search tools for the site you’re on. If only it were so easy. Seemingly of late I find myself going to Google and doing a “site:” operator to search Twitter, Linkedin, and probably the worst sinner of all, Facebook. On the other hand, not surprisingly, Google has used its bread and butter skills of indexation and display to make the Google+ search experience far more robust than its social competitors.
Let’s look at a really simple example. A lot of people like Coca-Cola. In fact they are one of the most recognized and valuable brands in the world . Based on that fact, we are going to make the assumption that if someone is searching for the common alias “coke” in a search box, they are generally looking for the parent brand Coca-Cola (unless it happens to be someone that really enjoyed the 80s; people usually infer that if they don’t refine their search they are going to be returned the brand, not the illicit substance). If you perform a basic search for “coke” in Facebook, you get listings that are categorized by Pages, Groups, Apps and People. The top Page listing is an exact title match of a page that has nearly a million ‘likes’, but the Coca-Cola page is nowhere to be found.
Should Coca-Cola, which doesn’t have an exact match in the Page title, come up before Coke Studio? Google sure thinks so, and I am willing to bet that the 98+% of the people searching for “coke” on Facebook are looking for the official company page. The conclusion is not surprising: Google’s search algorithm appears far more sophisticated than Facebook’s. After all, it is what the empire is built on.
The adoption of Google+ has been significant, accruing over 25 million users in the last few months (in invite only mode, which was lifted today), however, the usage and sharing has appeared to drop off a cliff (I have no explicit evidence of this, but rather stating a common sentiment within folks in online marketing circles). For Google+ to be a formidable competitor to Facebook, they need to leverage what they are really good at: discovery.
The screen shot below shows the exact same search that I did in Facebook. The test is far from scientific and is not even comparing apples to apples since G+ doesn’t allow business profiles. However, two things are clear: First, the results more closely match my intent, and I assume that once G+ allows business pages that the Coca-Cola business page would be in place of the trucker hat chick. Second, the results page itself has superior organization and provides blended results by default and filters for people, posts and Sparks separately.
As Google+ grows and continues to innovate, Facebook will surely be forced to “innovate” here (and vice versa, of course). See: Facebook announcing asynchronous relationships. For G+ to finally throw its full weight into the social media arena, it must leverage what its empire is built on as the killer competitive advantage.