Commentary

Facebook Is Dropping Bing So It Can Turn Search Queries Into Better Targeted Ads

Is Facebook the net? Are they one and the same thing? To ditch Bing surely suggests that the social giant believes it is sufficiently big that you can find what you want on its service. Why else would it end a search deal with Bing that accompanied an investment from Microsoft?

Who knows what has gone on behind closed doors there, but it would appear that Facebook must have had a clause that allowed it to ditch its investor and insist on all searches being internal. Onlookers, however, must be left wondering why Facebook would ditch any outward-looking search engine. The logical answer would be that it's arrogant and thinks you can find everything within its own four walls. I don't think that's the case, however. I suspect it's far more calculated than that.

Part of the answer might have come this week when research showed that while Amazon was still the lead site for Christmas gift research, nearly a quarter of shoppers were found to have searched for presents through Facebook. The only trouble is, of course, that the search results they would have received would have been disappointing -- and even if they did find something worthwhile, they would have had to click away on to another site to take a better look.

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I put in some test phrases and found a pile of mentions of buddies going out Christmas shopping without a single mention of an item they were happy with. Obviously, nobody wants to say what they have in those bags when they take a selfie in John Lewis. Try searching for a holiday and it's a similar nightmare. A few posts about the country you've mentioned, or a couple of people mentioning the country but not necessarily in holiday terms. You get the picture. If you want to find out what friends are up to, Facebook is fabulous. If you want to book a holiday or buy Christmas presents -- and that's pretty much what most people are focussed on at this time of the year and in to January -- it really sucks.

Now, Facebook is a very smart company. Love or loathe it, nobody can deny it's one of the smarter cookies in the biscuit jar. So, there must be one of two things happening here, possibly both.

Could there be a move ahead to turn the platform into an ecommerce powerhouse where people can search as easily as on Amazon to find the perfect gift and order them at the click of a mouse. Keeping search internalised would certainly suggest that is the way the social giant is going -- at least at first glance.

However, where I think this is really going is advertising. Although the move doesn't close off the option of turning Facebook into a shopping mall, I think it points to the site turning search from something they can help users find to something users can tell them about their purchasing intent, regardless of whether they find what they need through a Facebook-only query.

Remember -- Facebook is all about data and it's the cleverest site ever for getting us to give up so much personal information for the chance to see our friends' selfies and "shares" of humorous videos. 

Put in a search to let the site know what you're looking for and, hey presto, the next thing you know the suggested posts you see are closely related, as are, on the desktop version, the right hand column of adverts. 

So I'd like to venture this. Dropping Bing is very obviously about keeping people on the site rather than taking them elsewhere. I don't think it's immediately going to be about fulfilling each person's request there and then. The shops required don't exist, and content is limited to what friends and other people have had to say on the subject.

Instead, it's the equivalent of asking people what's on their mind so more qualified advertisements can be delivered and there will surely be paid-for top placements at some stage offered to advertisers willing to bid for a click, exactly as they do with Google. You never know -- the data might be able to convince a bunch of retailers that they should open a Facebook store so they can sell to an engaged audience. That would certainly make sense in the long term.

As for now, the search pane might as well read "tell us what we should tell advertisers you're interested in" rather than "Search Facebook."

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