The evidence of the power shift on the Web from Google and search to Facebook and social networking has been mostly anecdotal so far.
News organisations that used to worry about getting stories placed on Google News now try and get people to share them on Facebook. Small businesses in the Bay Area are still buying keywords, but also begging their happy customers to post on Facebook and user-rating sites like Yelp.
Now comes some data from Experian Hitwise that really drives home the point.
How did these buyers arrive at iTunes?
According to Experian Hitwise, UK search queries related to The Beatles increased 30-fold during the week they went on sale on iTunes. But those queries didn’t necessarily guide users to iTunes. Although Apple paid for 67% of the traffic from the keywords “The Beatles,” it was only the ninth-biggest destination for UK surfers who searched that term, behind Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook, which didn’t pay for any Beatles-related queries.
Even the more specific term “Beatles iTunes” drove twice as many users to the BBC–which was featuring the news that week–than to Apple’s site.
In contrast, on the day that the sale began, almost 26% of all traffic that came to Apple came through social networks, compared with about 16% the day before. In particular, traffic from Facebook increased five times, to the point that one in every 200 UK Web surfers who left Facebook went directly to Apple’s site.
This doesn’t mean that Facebook drove a larger absolute number of viewers to Apple than Google did. But Facebook did a more effective job than Google of reflecting new information–“Beatles songs are now on sale at iTunes”–and showing users where to buy them.
Think of it another way: when Google first launched, its signal-to-noise ratio was much higher than any other source of information online, including other search engines. That’s no longer the case.
Marketers are surely taking note. So is Google.