Facebook has quietly stopped including Microsoft Bing search results on its social networking site, Reuters first confirmed. Instead, the social network has revamped its own search offering with a new tool it claims makes it easier for users to filter and search through comments and other information from friends.

On one hand users might find the change limiting. Now, when they use the search bar they are not taken outside of Facebook for results. On the other, the tool is more robust than previous Facebook offerings — and besides, there is always Google for straightforward search.

That, however, may change again as Facebook ramps up its search tool set. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said search is a growth initiative for Facebook. And as the company's push into mobile has shown over the last few years, once Facebook identifies a growth sector it goes after it.

Search, though, is a very different animal than mobile.

Burning Money

There's a reason Yahoo ultimately regretted its move several years ago to stop using Google and do search itself, Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of San Jose, Calif.-based Enderle Group told CMSWire: "It found the effort to be a money hole."

Enderle thinks Facebook's search effort will ultimately fail as well, unless it can find a "unique benefit that has proven elusive for other contenders to locate."

He does have one idea for Facebook along those lines — and it could address Facebook's struggle to showcase the benefit of capturing so much personal information as well. "Facebook seemed more focused on collecting than actually doing something beneficial with the data. With search, if it can get to a critical mass of users, it should be able to finally showcase that value," he explained.

But again, he cautioned, search is tricky and requires a certain volume to improve results, something that even Bing has trouble achieving.

"It would seem that Facebook would be pulling from an even smaller pool than Bing, suggesting its results could be substantially degraded as a result," Enderle said.

Facebook Knows What You Like

Facebook, though, has a distinct advantage over Bing and even Google. It has in-depth knowledge about users' tastes, said Ben Hordell, a partner at DXagency in Edgewater, N.J. "It has a leg up in personalized search and as a result ad targeting will be even more compelling."

What's more, Hordell does not think Facebook will keep its search so insular in the long run. His prediction: Facebook will let users search beyond Facebook's four walls eventually, especially as it broadens its content sharing partnerships with publishers. "Once Facebook makes a bigger play in third-party content it will reintroduce [Internet] search with a model in which revenues are split," he said.

Search = Social Selling?

However it plays out, even if Facebook is only marginally successful at adding search to the mix, it will surely boost its social selling bona fides, said Ben Rund, senior director of PIM and Retail Solutions Marketing at Redwood City, Calif.-based  Informatica. He added:

Facebook data will be increasingly important when it comes to social selling, and it will be used to represent the whole customer picture. If more people start using Facebook as their search engine, then forward-thinking marketing and sales leaders should integrate customer Facebook data into their CRM systems, combined with data from all the platforms customers use, to capture customer sentiment."

Title image by Pleuntje  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.