Has Google “Peaked”?

Has Google "Peaked"?

We all know Google is the giant of the internet, the one site that seems to keep growing no matter what’s happening. Year after year, they scoop up more users and outperform the other search engines. But what if that rise to power has come to an end?

That’s one conclusion to draw from recent data by comScore. The data is a monthly report on US search traffic. And it shows that although Google remains the dominant US search engine, it has slipped on desktop search traffic.

The Numbers

The numbers in question are very, very specific. “Desktop” search traffic refers to searches on actual computers (including laptops). This is separate from mobile (and again, this applied only to US-based searches). But within those parameters, the numbers are clear: Google is down nearly 4 percentage points from last year (67.6 percent of the market in August 2014 versus 63.8 in August of this year). This is a first for Google. 

To be clear, it’s by no means a death knell. This is a small slip in a giant market, and one that could look like a glitch if it’s followed by another meteoric rise. But, considering that the search market is now more competitive than ever and Google has recently re-org’ed, the backslide is worth noting. Industry analysts have begun to as whether Google has reached its “peak” for desktop search growth.

Alternative Explanations

There are other explanations for the drop. According to Search Engine Land, comScore offered one idea of its own: the change could be related to default search deals. Remember that several browsers have changed their default search providers in the past year, and Microsoft just rolled out Windows 10 with Bing integrated into the personal assistant-style search. By that reasoning, some existing users may have been automatically switched away from Google, but Google could continue to grow its search share moving forward.

My own thought is that the drop relates to mobile. Google has said that they now get more mobile searches than desktop based, and they still control nearly 90 percent of mobile searches in the US. So they’re on top in that sector, which is still growing. Couldn’t the drop in their desktop share just mean more users are migrating to mobile, but not necessarily leaving Google?

This isn’t the first time that reports of Google’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. One landmark came in 2010 when, for the first time, traffic to Facebook.com exceeded traffic to Google.com. That didn’t signal the passing of the torch from one internet giant to another, but it did mark a momentous culture change. For the first time, the internet was not primarily an information resource. Instead it was primarily a recreational/social setting, an extension of the real world where we hang out with our friends. That change continues today.

Last month’s traffic slide may be a similar culture landmark. If the future of the internet is mobile, then what happens in desktop searches is of declining importance. It may just be that the biggest, most dominant internet companies are no longer focused there.

Or maybe Bing is about to hose Google.

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