Search is Dead! Long Live Search!

Within the last year or so, I’ve had conversations and have read articles and blogs stating “search is dead” or “social media will overtake search”. This makes for good news but it just does not quite ring true for me.

Utility vs. Sociability

Facebook has been growing like wildfire in almost all markets around the world. In the chart below we see that Facebook’s worldwide audience has grown by 34 percent in April 2011 as compared to April 2010. Google Search property (not including non-search properties like YouTube and Blogger) has grown only 7 percent within the same period of time. Note that Google has a higher audience reach to begin with. It is also important to note that that the total Internet audience has grown 11 percent within that same time period.

A look at the average time spent per visitor shows both Facebook and Google Search growing, though it is not surprising that Facebook has a larger growth as humans are being social on the Internet more and more.

But a surprising result comes out when we look at average time spent per visit. Google Search’s average minutes per visit grew by 26.7 percent which is six times higher growth than Facebook, though, of course, Facebook’s average minutes per visit is five times higher than Google Search. Facebook likes to keep people on their site while Google Search tries to give people what they are looking for as fast as possible.

The Database of Intentions

Google’s search platform has been described as the “database of intentions” by John Barttelle. This description may seem academic, but it is more correct than saying that Google ranks sites based on page rank “popularity”. They have added so many more criteria to their secret algorithms with the objective to providing the most relevant results for a search phrase. Ultimately giving a searcher the most relevant results requires understanding what the searcher is looking for, in other words his/her intention.

And people continue to search more and more. There are over a hundred billions searches each month worldwide. This is on Google, on Baidu, on many other search engines as well as major sites like Facebook. The whole point of having access to the Internet is so that we can find things – deals, news, friends, ex-friends, ex-lovers, etc.

Google continues to innovate and to pour tons of money into research in order to refine these algorithms so that each searcher can find what they want quicker. Bing, Baidu in China, Yandex in Russia and Naver in South Korea are all continuously investing in this space. On the other hand, Facebook focuses on features that engage users and make them stay on Facebook and connect with them everywhere.

Let’s compare the trend of searches on Google vs. searches on Facebook across the world.

The number of searches on Facebook is dwarfed by Google Search numbers and has even seen a decrease in Europe and North America. People use Facebook to find and connect to other people, but once they find and connect to them, they don’t have to look for them again.

Mobile Search

Last but not least is Mobile Search. We have all heard how mobile usage is exploding and how Android’s smartphone OS is growing much faster than Apple’s iOS. Regardless of the operating system, people use their phones to do many things, including search.

Below is comScore’s MobileLens reports comparing people’s mobile usage in Japan, US and Europe last year.

People use their phones to play games, to watch video and to access sports, weather, and social networks. In all markets, one of the top activities is Search.

Long Live Search!

I have been a search marketer earlier in my career. And like most people, I have used Google for years – and before that Lycos, AltaVista, and Yahoo! I cannot imagine a day where I would not search on the Internet. New technologies or platforms will come such as Quora and semantic searching, and probably apps that will even automate searching for me. But no matter how good a database of intentions is, it can’t read my mind and it can’t know what I am curious about right now. So I still have to use my fingers (or my voice) and tell some search engine about what I want to know. Long live search!

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