Aside from the Fan pages that attract consumers to brands, marketers recognize that Facebook paid-search ads and friend referrals have become strong marketing tools.
While no one can confirm when -- or if -- Facebook might surpass Google as the top source for traffic to brand Web sites, recent data from Compete suggests the social network has surpassed Google when it comes to sending more people to content portals, such as MSN and Yahoo.
The referrals are not necessarily done through links or widgets, but by typing in a new URL in the browser. So, the real question becomes: what do people see on Facebook that drives them directly to portals such as AOL, MSN and Yahoo? Some marketers might suggest paid-search ads, friendly chatter, Fan pages and widgets influence consumers.
No matter what drives the traffic from Facebook to portals, the findings make Facebook the No. 1 referrer with 14.80% market share in January -- up from 13.04% in December, according to Compete.
EBay follows, contributing 7.27% in January; google.com, 7.24%; myspace, 3.01%; craigslist.org, 1.84%; youtube.com, 1.23%; microsoft.com, 1.16%; comcast.net, 0.84%; and monster.com, 0.46%.
"The data analyzes cross visitation between Facebook and content portals," says Jessica Ong, director of online media and search at Compete. "As Facebook continues to grow, it will cross paths with some of the larger sites like portals. That's why we see Facebook sending more traffic to the portal category of Web sites."
Facebook's growth catapulted the social network past Yahoo to become the No. 2 online site in January 2010, with about 133 million unique visitors, just under Google's 147 million unique visitors. Facebook experienced 121.41% growth in December 2009 compared with the prior year, according to the research firm.
Ong points to Yahoo's redesigned home page that supports a "My Favorites" section down the left rail where people can add content, including Facebook. She says that's another factor driving cross-visitation between Facebook and Yahoo.
Evidently, Google recognizes this, too. Google recently listed Facebook as a competitor in its annual 10K U.S. Security and Exchange Commission filing, according to Search Engine Land.
Measuring traffic from friends' posts to portals and Web sites has been difficult, according to Ong. "Compete is trying to figure that out based on our data, but Facebook probably can," she says. "We have had many requests for that data."