With activity down 16 per cent, is the age of search slowly drawing to a close?

The end of search is a theme that’s been talked about a lot in the past – as long ago as in Feb 2008, Ben Kunz of Media Associates produced a series of graphs from Google Trends showing that search volumes were significantly down for a range of what you might call staple terms – music, furniture, office supplies etc.

Some of it is wishful thinking as many of us wish for the age of Google to start drawing to a close (whether the age of Facebook is any better is of course a different matter altogether).

And the latest Nielsen search stats from the US show that Google is as dominant as ever, controlling almost 2/3 (64.2%) of the search market – a share that’s hardly changed since last year, despite all the new bells and whistles that Microsoft’s Bing (on 13.6%) has been rolling out.

It’s the second table from the Nielsen post however that makes for more interesting reading. Over the past year, search activity is down 16% – 17% in the case of Google. Yahoo! (-30%) performed particularly badly, though despite it’s still small share Bing (+28%) has done well. So all those extra features are paying off after all.

OK, so with almost nine million searches being conducted in the US in July, search is certainly not dead. But a drop of close to a fifth year on year is still significant, and one explanation has to be that people get more and more of what they need and want via social media. There is that research from earlier in the year after all about Facebook now driving more traffic to major news and entertainment portals than Google.

At the very least it reinforces what Comscore found last year – that search and social media campaigns now need to work very much in tandem, with a paid search campaign supported by social activity being 2.23x more effective than if conducted on its own.

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  1. If we think about search in the broadest sense — creating efficiency between a demand for information and the supply of the information — and then consider where the best information lies, in human minds, it makes sense that search will evolve over time to human networks from content networks. Content such as web pages, after all, is code for data that came from human minds.

    I don’t think searches for content, driven by Google, will go away. But that form will decline and then plateau as new networks such as Facebook Questions allow people to query other people more efficiently.

    Forrester had a good point recently that “search” now needs a broader definition that search engine SEO and PPC, to include social nets, videos, ratings services, etc. With people moving to social connections and mobile handsets and location-based tracking, search will continue to change. The challenge for marketers is to build a portfolio of search capabilities that go beyond the little PPC sponsored links, no matter how well they work by themselves.

  2. It doesn’t surprise me that “searches” are down. Most searches for these items are frustrating due to results generated by overuse of tag words and phrases. You can’t find what you are actually looking for because the search results are a bunch of portal sites, articles, forums, blog posts mentioning the item(s), etc. In my opinion, crappy search results are the reason for decreased use of any search engine. You’ll come closer to finding an opinion on an item or a story about it than you will finding the actual item through a general “search” these days.

    It’s frustrating and it takes up too much time digging through all the fruitless results.

    Some of us feel that technology takes up too much time in our lives now anyway. We want to “see it, touch it and feel it” in real life again, not just in HTML, FTML, etc.

    I love technology, but we need to get back in touch with the “real world” and stop spending so much time in the “virtual world”. I live two blocks from the beach. I see people lying on the beach checking email and surfing the internet on their phones. It’s ridiculous. Life is too short to stay “plugged in” as much as we are these days.

  3. Hi David,

    Thanks for the comment

    Surely the answer is both – people increasingly ask questions and get info / recommendations via their online social circle.

    And people have got better in finding what they want….or not given that ‘Facebook’ is regularly a top search term (http://selnd.com/djKZgH)

    Yes indeed, Google has seen this coming, hence their countless forays into the social sphere. And on that note, this infographic on Google’s purchases over the years is interesting – http://bit.ly/b2AMEd

  4. I don’t think it is because get what they need from social media: I think the reason was obvious from the start.

    I am also sure that Google knew right from the start that this was coming.

    I think the reason for the slow-down is that eventually people find what they need.

    It may take years but sooner or later people establish a pattern, a cocoon, a habit of living, that gives them what they need – then they stop searching.

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