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Core Search is Declining! And other Misinformation…

Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue

Lot’s of folks are hitting the glue again now that “core search” is in decline.

comScore and others have released data which MANY have interpreted to show that desktop search is in decline and mobile is taking its place. Vendors in non-search services seize on this fear to encourage folks to shift budgets towards their stuff.

Horsefeathers.

Before believing myths like this people should ask themselves: “hmmm, am I searching less at work or at home than I used to? Does my spouse search less than they used to? Do I know anyone who has stopped searching at work or at home in favor of searching while they’re going somewhere?”

If the answer to all of these is “no”, then one should look more carefully at the data rather than taking it at face value.

Here’s the thing: people have conflated devices with context of use.

Tablets are classified as mobile devices. True enough, you can walk around with them pretty easily. However, according to Google 80% of tablet usage happens between 6PM and 9PM in the local time, and 95% of it happens over wifi, not cell signals. It isn’t unreasonable to assume that most tablet usage is happening at home, on the couch.

This isn’t really new behavior. In fact, there once were other mobile computing devices called “laptops” which people used in similar manner to tablets. Very similar manner. They too were portable, occasionally connected through cell towers and were often “couch companions”.

The big difference is this: there has never been a way to distinguish between desktops and laptops. Search engines can’t do it, advertising platforms can’t do it, comScore, Hitwise, none of us can tell which is which.

So, we’ve just rolled them into one thing and often referred to search patterns on them as “desktop” or “core” search.

As tablets replace laptops…that’s right folks tablets are replacing laptops, not desktops…it creates the impression that “mobile” is rising and “core search” is falling. In fact, mobile search (smartphones) is increasing, though that rate of growth has slowed, and I suspect tablets get more attention during couch time than laptops did by virtue of their weight and size. However, I’ve yet to see any compelling evidence that desktop search — not laptop — is declining, in fact the numbers suggest the opposite.

Are vertical search engines going to be the Google killer? Will everyone just go directly to Amazon or eBay? What about the Online Travel Agencies, will they take search share from Google? Well, um, sure, but what’s “new” here? Amazon and eBay have been around longer than Google. I’m pretty sure most folks online are aware of Expedia and Orbitz and…

Will Facebook Graph Search be the Google killer? Unlikely. Graph Search is about finding content on Facebook. Could be huge for local businesses, restaurants, etc. Maybe a Yelp killer, but not even a Google competitor in many contexts.

RKG’s quarterly Digital Marketing Report will be out soon, and we’ll see Google posting significant YOY gains…again. An awful lot of folks are wringing their hands about the demise of Google and “what’s next?” My bet is what’s next is Google posting another big year of profitable growth this year, and next year, and…

Smart marketers will continue to explore new opportunities as they arise and letting data drive marketing decisions will also keep them from jumping off the deep end by pulling the plug on what works and leaping into the unknown and unproven.

Comments
5 Responses to “Core Search is Declining! And other Misinformation…”
  1. AJ Kohn says:

    Well it’s clear that the rate of desktop search growth has declined. That’s not to say that desktop search might not grow but it isn’t growing nearly as fast as it had previously. And this is to be expected given the penetration of Internet and search usages.

    I’ve tracked these numbers and using December as the benchmark month the YoY growth looks like this:

    2005 58.54%
    2006 28.85%
    2007 43.82%
    2008 31.28%
    2009 16.50%
    2010 11.58%
    2011 10.90%
    2012 -3.33%

    We’re simply not going to see 30% YoY growth in desktop search again (at least in the US).

    The question of cannibalization is murky. Context is important but so too is intent and environment. Do you search the same way from a tablet on your couch as you might from a laptop at your desk? Framing is pretty important.

    And as the search capabilities of mobile improve, people are less willing to delay their search until they’re on another device (aka desktop). Voice search, Google Now and Google Glass all present new interfaces for search. Just the speed in which mobile devices can now return results will create a different dynamic.

    It wasn’t long ago that people waited until they got to work to surf and search with a fast connection. That’s largely gone now, but the same transition will likely take place as smartphone adoption continues (we’re not at saturation yet) and the human computer interfaces improve and friction is reduced.

    All that said, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be investing in search. The opposite actually. You should be investing more in search to ensure you’re there when it naturally evolves and becomes more distributed.

  2. AJ, thanks so much for the excellent commentary.

    I agree, desktop search is a saturated market growing at the pace of healthy saturated markets. Tablets may be more couch friendly than laptops so gaining incremental traction, and the smartphone market is not saturated, so that’s all to the good. There is a fear that since the CPCs on other devices is lower this perceived migration will hurt Google’s revenue. My point would be: as people use mobile devices in place of desktops/laptops and for the same purposes as desktop/laptops the CPCs will climb as the value of traffic climbs. People aren’t expressing less commercial intent, nor shopping less online, and the auction environment will keep pace with the evolution of user behavior.

  3. AJ Kohn says:

    Completely agree George. I remember $0.05 CPCs with AdWords but you’re not going to even approach that today.

    The mobile ecosystem will mature as more people search and the delivery of results improve. As more advertisers jump on board, the auction will heat up. It’s taken less time for the mobile market to spin up than it did for desktop.

    Not only that, but the ways in which you could target in the future (deliver a Google Now card to a user who has searched for a certain class of terms in the last 30 days and has visited your site and is within 2 miles of your brick and mortar location) could lead to some seriously high CPCs.

    Lots of opportunity for users to get better results, advertisers to improve efficiency and Google to continue minting money.

  4. I was expecting some critical feedback on the numbers. But I leave with questions

    1. Are you asserting that Desktop users only use core search, while mobile/tablet gives way to verticals?
    2. Are you ignoring that verticals have been growing since 2008- with only a drop in 2011 – the year after places, social & instant got introduced?
    3. Are you saying google isn’t investing in universal search to be as apealing for vertical searches as the search engines are…?

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