Facebook and Google
Research out today shows that in May, for the first month ever, social networks received more visits than search engines in the UK. According to Hitwise , social networks accounted for 11.88% of UK Internet visits compared to 11.33% for search engines. The report goes on to point out that whilst Facebook is the most visited social media site in the UK - ahead of YouTube and Twitter, it does not dominate the social networking space to the same extent Google does the search market.
However, comparing social networking traffic and search engine traffic is flawed. It is like comparing the number of people that use search engines to the number of people walking down the high street on their way to work. They are qualitatively different. Search engine usage is the proactive and decisive pursuit of information and content that will often lead to a consumer transaction. A search engine visit is quite likely to result in a monetary transaction, a Facebook visit may just be someone looking at a post on their wall and a million miles away from a conversion. A search engine visit has a distinct commercial or informational purpose, which isn't necessarily true of the average Facebook visit (yet).
What is true however is that Google and Facebook are indeed competitors. Both want to deliver on the search and social modal requirements of online users. But comparing visits doesn't conclude anything at all about how this is actually playing out. The only conclusion to draw is that search and social are both incredibly important for people and marketers. Engaging with them both is critical, but that engagement needs to be different as it needs to reflect their relative value in driving acquisitions, brand loyalty, brand awareness, and word of mouth - they are not the same.
As such, to compare content to the means of acquiring it isn't a big story. However, more insight into the influence of social media and search engines on buying decisions and brand awareness would celebrate the meritorious differences of each and not assume they are the same.
The comparison of Facebook to Search Engine usage, and then saying social network traffic has exceeded that of search engines, suggests this is some kind of seminal moment. This is no big story.