Facebook passes Google | The battle is on

Facebook on-screen

Last week, more users typed www.facebook.com into their browser than www.google.com. Image from Flickr.

Last week, Facebook took a crown that Google has long held as its own: the most visited web site for the week. As reported by web traffic ranking service Hitwise on March 15, Facebook accounted for 7.07 percent of United States web traffic in the week ending March 13, while Google accounted for 7.03 percent. It may seem like a very minor difference, but in the battle of the web giants, the Google/Facebook rivalry has implications bigger than payday loans.

How Facebook is catching up to Google

As reported on CNN.com, the most surprising thing about the report from Hitwise wasn’t necessarily that Facebook overtook Google’s visit statistics. It was, instead, that Facebook can claim 185 percent growth in traffic in just the past year, while Google’s growth is pegged at 9 percent. This explosion in growth shows that more and more people are treating Facebook as a web destination – and the growth in games, applications and tools on Facebook helps account for this expansion of market share.

How Facebook and Google differ

Of course, when looking at these numbers, it is important to consider the basic differences between Google and Facebook. Facebook is very much the “social destination” — the place you go on the web to chat with friends, play games, and generally hang out. Google, on the other hand, is more like a jumping-off point. Users don’t tend to hang out on Google.com. Instead, they use it as a portal to find exactly what they are looking for.

While both web sites make a large portion of their operating cash from advertising, the basic business model and offerings of the web sites are, at their base, different. This is not to say there is not crossover. Google’s recent launch of Google Buzz brings the search giant into the social-sharing sphere, though Facebook has yet to offer anything that directly competes with Google’s search offerings.

How the Google/Facebook numbers were calculated

As the New York Daily News points out, the Hitwise numbers that put Facebook as the most-visited site in the United States do not include “visits to other Google websites, such as Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps.” What this means is that the numbers only indicate the number of times users typed www.facebook.com and www.google.com into their browsers.

It does not account for anybody typing search strings such as “military personal loans” into the Google search boxes available in web browsers, on outside web sites, in Google toolbars or on their mobile phones. It also does not account for many of Google’s more popular web properties, such as the fifth-most visited site in that same week, YouTube. Taken in combination, Google and its properties most certainly still have significantly more traffic and daily users than Faceboook.

What this means for both Google and Facebook

Basic differences in offerings and statistics calculation aside, the fact that Facebook surpassed Google in number of visitors last week does still fire a shot across the bow of Google. Because both web sites are advertising-supported, both web sites are essentially competing for the same number of dollars, just in more places. Google, a relatively new startup itself (though ancient in web terms), has always considered the possibility of “the next startup” dethroning it. Facebook does definitely have the user base to be able to give Google a run for its money.

At the same time, Facebook is focused on the social networks and groups that individuals form for themselves, while Google is more focused on providing search and services for individuals. The difference in their business models mean that both Google and Facebook will continue to draw in hundreds of millions of page views – the real question is where will advertisers decide to spend their money? Only time will tell.

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