Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Peak Google - Is Content Discovery via Google Search In Permanent Decline?

Content discovery is changing. Whilst Google remains the dominant search engine its influence on content discovery is declining. People increasingly discover content through social referrals, mobile apps and niche search engines. Is this just a blip or have we already passed the point of Peak Google when it comes to content discovery?
Google Search Volume Growth Slows
Google search volume growth has slowed over recent years.
In many ways this is to be expected and whilst the growth rate has fallen, it should be noted that total Google search volumes are still growing.
The number of Google searches per internet user has also leveled off in recent years as we can see below. Data from http://www.internetlivestats.com/
This is also partly to be expected as much of the recent growth in internet users is in countries like China, where users are less likely to use Google. We would also expect the volume of searches to flatten out as the search market reaches maturity.
Visits to Sites From Google Declines
The most significant trend from recent data is that visits to sites from Google is actually falling.
Shareaholic reported back in December 2013 that organic search’s share of visits to publishers actually dropped 6% in the year from November 2012 to November 2013. This covered all search engines including Google. See https://blog.shareaholic.com/search-traffic-social-referrals-12-2013/
Since November 2013 this decline has continued. The latest Shareaholic report on search engine data from December 2013 to May 2014 found a steady decline in the number of visitors coming from search engines over the last six months.

The fall in Google’s search engine traffic is shown in the chart below.
It could be argued this is partly because Google, with its new Hummingbird Algorithm, is getting better at predicting what people are searching for. Hence, Google often provides the answer directly on the search results page and therefore users do not need to visit a website. This will primarily apply to searches for something specific and short such as the number for a restaurant, the age of an actor or the date a building was constructed. It applies less to longer form content and articles.
The decline in search traffic visitors from Google has been quite marked since the end of 2013. The chart also hides another major shift which is the shift to mobile and the decline in desktop search. Google’s Matt Cutts has said he expects to see mobile search overtake desktop search very soon, see http://searchengineland.com/matt-cutts-mobile-queries-may-surpass-pc-year-186816
Changes in Content Discovery
There is a lot of evidence that people are increasingly finding content in ways that do not involve Google or other major search engines. They discover content via apps directly such as Yelp, via social referrals, via content aggregation platforms and via niche search engines such as social search engines.
A recent article by Ad Age shows the shift to search within apps as measured in terms of advertising dollars. They forecast Google’s share of ad dollars will fall significantly. They say “Last year alone, Google saw its near-monopoly in mobile search shrivel nearly 15 percentage points, with standalone apps, such as Yelp, scooping up considerably more search.”http://adage.com/article/digital/study-mobile-search-shifting-google-mobile-apps/293560/
Using apps for content discovery extends beyond Yelp to retail sites, job sites, property sites, travel sites and other specific purpose apps.
The other big change is social referrals. The Shareaholic research found a significant shift to social referrals in the latter half of 2013 as shown below.
People are also browsing for content differently. This was highlighted in a recent survey conducted for the New York Times which found that fewer users were coming directly to their home page and browsing. Instead they were going direct to articles from social media and other referrals. Below is an extract from the report.

As a consequence of these changes sites such as Quartz and The Atlantic have declared the homepage to be dead — “killed by social media platforms, the “side doors” that deliver readers directly to stories.”
There is increasingly evidence that people discover content via social referrals and aggregation platforms such as Flipboard or Scoop.it.
Niche Search Engines Do It Better For Advanced Users
Google is not always the most appropriate search engine depending upon the task in hand. For example, I am keen to keep up with the very latest in content marketing and elearning. When I search for Content Marketing on Google I get the following results, I used an incognito window for this exercise.
Google is excellent at finding authoritative content and answering questions. It has assumed from my search that I might want to know what content marketing is and delivered at the top of the results 'What is Content Marketing' from the Content Marketing Institute. It has also tried to deliver me recent news stories and shown me some of the top content marketing stories including one on how content marketing has changed PR. It has then offered me authoritative sites such as Wikipedia. Interestingly my personalised results were almost identical to these.
This might seem a good set of results but these results are not so valuable for me . I know what Content Marketing is and I don’t need the Wikipedia site. I want to know what the latest thinking is and what content is resonating with my fellow content marketing professionals.
If I use BuzzSumo, a social search engine that finds the most shared content, I can find a much more relevant set of results. (Disclaimer, I have been involved in developing BuzzSumo but the same applies to other social search engines such as Topsy.) With BuzzSumo I can find the most shared content yesterday, for example.
Interestingly the most shared item yesterday was the same item highlighted by Google News. However, I can switch the filter on BuzzSumo to find the most shared content in the last week. This delivers a different set of results.
With Google it is difficult, if not impossible, to get this set of results. With BuzzSumo I can also search for influencers in the area of content marketing and filter them by reach or engagement.
I can also find the content that resonates with these influencers by reviewing the links they are sharing. For example, this is the content recently shared by Robert Rose.
Thus for more advanced users it may simply be that Google is not the most appropriate content discovery tool.
Peak Google?
It is a brave person that bets against Google but I think there is evidence as outlined above that we are seeing ‘Peak Google’ in terms of content discovery. The rise of apps, social referrals and niche search engines are eroding Google’s dominance as a content discovery tool.

This post was first published by me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140630150511-2270077-peak-google-is-content-discovery-via-google-search-in-permanent-decline?trk=nmp_rec_act_article_detail