It’s 1 pm PST on a Thursday, and Google has already processed over 2.1 billion searches. On average, Google handles over 40,000 searches every second of the day. And yes, that number continues to grow, year over year. It seems, on the surface, that this web behemoth has dominance to spare.
And yet there’s clearly cracks in the Google armor. Take, for example, their growth rate. In the start-up phase in 1998, the company grew an astronomical 17,000 percent. From 2001-09, growth stabilized around 40-60 percent each year. But starting in 2009, those percentages started to dramatically plummet. In 2012, growth was down to just 10%. Most analysts agree that will drop even more substantically this year. Who on earth could be stealing Google’s audience?
I’ll tell you who isn’t responsible for Google’s slowed growth: Yahoo or Bing. In 2012, Bing held just 4.5 percent of searches, and Yahoo 5.8 percent. While they have their niches and sizable traffic to boast about, Google’s 78 percent search dominance is not even touchable by the other two search companies.
The driving force behind Google’s shaky foundation is social media. How are tweets and likes affecting Google’s bottom line? Let’s investigate.
The Non-Threatening Foe: YouTube
In 2006, Google made what is inarguably its wisest acquisition when it purchased video supersite YouTube for $1.65 billion. Besides the obvious traffic and advertising boon that YouTube offers, Google’s biggest motivation to spend the big bucks for YouTube has to lie in its search reach. YouTube, as it turns out, is now the second largest search engine in the world. It processes more than 3 billion searches a month, which is very close to Google’s number as well. While Google has an option for searches to just bring up videos in the results, many just go straight to the source and search on YouTube instead. YouTube is so popular for search, in fact, that it is bigger than Bing, Yahoo, Ask, and AOL combined. If Google didn’t own YouTube, this would be catastrophic.
Facebook: The Mobile Throwdown
As everyone knows by now, mobile is the space to win. More than 46 percent of users now use it exclusively as their searching and researching tool of choice, with numbers rising monthly.
Facebook has had its eye on mobile supremacy for a long time now, making all kinds of plays to be the king of handhelds. Most recently, in May of this year Facebook launched FAN, or the Facebook Audience Network. FAN allows companies to reach large numbers of mobile Facebook users when they use other apps, like popular game Cut the Rope and news mega-site Huffington Post. They’ve created a mobile ad network in the process, which in turn creates a whole lot more advertising revenue.
Mobile advertising is a space Google has presided over since the segment appeared. Right now, about 50 percent of all handheld advertising is handled by Google. Facebook is in second place with 17.5 percent. With crafty business deals and networks like FAN as the norm now for Facebook, they may very well outsmart Google and bridge this gap more and more.
Pinterest Launches Guided Search
Pinterest, the little visual social network that could, just launched a fancy and multifaceted new search tool they call “guided search.” Pinterest currently boasts over 30 billion individual pins, and sifting through the content has become an increasingly daunting task.
Until recently, most searchers turned to Google for help in locating specific content. But now that Pinterest offers a more powerful option, the tide is turning.
Guided search, which is also optimized for mobile, aims to show users what they’re looking for with as little inputted data as possible. With Google, precise queries are still a necessity. Pinterest, on the other hand, created new technology that attempts to showcase related content the searcher didn’t even know they were looking for.
This new search advance is significant for two reasons:
1) Pinterest has more users now than Twitter and Instagram. They are a monster in the social space, with no signs of faltering.
2) They’ve proven they are technologically savvy enough to improve upon the overall search experience. If users find what they want on Pinterest better than Google, more downward spikes in Google’s numbers are imminent.
The Final Word
Let’s be clear: Google is not in jeopardy of search extinction. What they are seeing, however, is more than just a little healthy competition; we’re all bearing witness to an online revolution. Social media is the most popular usage on the web by a landslide. It stands to reason that if people are naturally navigating to sites like YouTube and Facebook as a home base, those search queries were bound to explode. Google, then, as a separate destination, will need to stay relevant and present in every web user’s awareness, or they risk further slowed growth, or may even start slipping from their dominant position.
One of the biggest culprits in Google’s weakness right now is their own social media attempt, Google Plus. While Google Plus has impressive usage numbers, the overall activity and engagement is pitiful compared to rival, Facebook. It’s been three years since Google launched Google Plus, and by many accounts, it’s a failure. Since it certainly can’t compete with the likes of Pinterest and Twitter, the opportunity to dominate the shift to social has been all but lost. The purchase of YouTube, then, is a huge saving grace.