Changing Search Behaviour is Shrinking the Internet

Written by Damian Carvill on June 9, 2017

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How good is your memory? If I asked you to think back 20 years to 1997, what comes to mind?

Perhaps you remember Tiger Woods becoming the youngest winner of the Masters? How about Harry Potter first being published or watching Titanic at the movies? Or maybe you recall me starting University as a fresh-faced teenager (you reading this, mum?). None of this seems that long ago (certainly that last one for me), yet all of this happened the year before Google was founded.

In less than 20 years, Google hasn’t just become an Internet giant, it’s also a verb. With just shy of 80% of the search engine market, Google is at the start, and the heart of many of the online journeys we make every day.But the way we’re using Google, and what we’re using it for, is changing.

Google Trends

Back in 2002, the most popular search term in the UK was ‘BBC’, with two other companies featuring in the top 10. This reflected our relative immaturity with using the Internet, with too many of us requiring a search engine to find the BBC.co.uk website.

In 2011, the top search was for the Royal Wedding. For some reason, Kate and Will’s nuptials captured the nation’s imagination more than football club Rushden & Diamonds going out of business. That year, one third of the top 10 searches were for products, which reflected the rise of online purchasing.

In 2016, no products or companies featured, with four events and four people making up the majority of the top 10 searches. Our behaviour had switched to use Google to search for current affairs.

Granted, this is a rather superficial analysis. But it does demonstrate how our search habits are changing as our use of the Internet matures.

The reality is that the majority of us are now using a range of different search engines to fulfil our different online needs.

The Rise of Other Search Engines

For shopping, our search engine of choice is Amazon, with 44% of us starting any purchasing journey there. Incredibly, last year, Amazon.com accounted for $0.50 of every $1 spent online in the US.

For video, we head straight to YouTube. The site is now technically the second largest search engine in the world, with more people using it than Bing or Yahoo. Every day, 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube and every month, 8 out of 10 people aged 18-49 will watch something on YouTube.

With 1 billion streams each day, we’re using Spotify to search for music and when it comes to finding a better pet insurance deal, we’re going straight to MoneySuperMarket.com. Come on, you’ve got to give me that last one.

So although there are more websites for us to visit than ever before, are we settled with our destination sites of choice? Unless you’re a super-niche retailer or make your own products, changing these habits is going to be tough.

The Future of Google

How does this shift in behaviour reduce Google’s influence when it comes to buyer behaviour? How will this impact their ad revenues, which make up almost 90% of its revenue?

Of course Google has been aware of these questions for some time now and it’s one reason why they’re placing a lot of resource and emphasis behind Google Home and its voice activated Google Assistant, as this will allow them to take back some control.

According to Google, voice already makes up 20% of its total searches, and is predicted to grow to 50% by 2020. Gartner has also predicted that 30% of our web browsing sessions will be done without a screen in three years time.

All this means that over the next three to five years we will see another change in our search habits and a shift in how we use the Internet.

The danger with this behaviour is that it will shrink the Internet. Which in turn will make life difficult for new entrants and potentially erode value for consumers. We already have our destination sites and search engines for most online activities and if we search with our voice, we tend to get a single answer.

So in future will we have less control over where we get our information from? And will we be partly to blame for that?