The New Search Landscape

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When you think of search engines and the Internet, it’s hard not to think of Google (and not much else). When you think of Google, it’s also hard not to think of the classic children’s tale, The Little Engine That Could.

When Sergey Brin and Larry Page incorporated Google as a business in late 1998 out of a friend’s garage in Menlo Park, Calif., there is no way they could have envisioned what the company would become. Beyond being worth billions of dollars, beyond its 20,000 employees, some people don’t even call it "searching" any more, they simply refer to it as "Googling."

Any time your company becomes a verb, it is something to marvel at.

When Google first got started indexing the Internet, the landscape was already filled with more than one 800-pound search engine gorilla. Both Yahoo! and Microsoft were heavily engaged in the space, as were companies like AOL, Lycos and Altavista. Google’s laser-like focus on improving how people find stuff on the Internet paid off as the other companies shifted into media properties, portals and online news and information sources in attempts to capture as much online advertising revenue as possible. It’s easy to look back and be critical of the decisions made by other search engines, but remember that even Brin and Page had no real fixed vision or how they would make money with Google. It took several years and much iteration of Google AdWords before it clicked for advertisers (pardon the pun).

Even after all these years, and the huge success of paid search advertising, the majority of companies still struggle with how to be more findable on both the paid advertising side as well as search results.

This challenge is further multiplied for businesses these days because it’s not just about being found on webpages any more. It’s even beyond blogging and Twitter. Now, people are searching for images, video and audio to go along with all of that text, and the landscape is getting ever-more complex . . . even for Google.

Just this week, the Nielsen Co. released their search engine rankings for October. In the U.S. alone, more than 10.2 billion searches were conducted on the top search engines. Google took 66.1 per cent, followed by Yahoo! at 15.4 per cent, and Microsoft’s Bing at 9.7 per cent (AOL and round out the top five).

And, while this provides an interesting perspective at just how big Google and searching is, it is not the whole picture … not by a long shot.

At last week’s Marketing Week held in Toronto, Kevin Nalty, a marketing consultant and YouTube sensation (his online videos have been seen over 100 million times and growing) gave the opening keynote address for the Digital Day by dropping this bombshell: "YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the United States." This statistic was gleaned from comScore‘s U.S. search engine rankings for August 2008. The data suggests that YouTube (Google owns YouTube) achieves a greater level of search traffic (about 2.6 billion searches per month) than Yahoo! does (about 2.4 billion searches per month). We’re talking billions – not millions. The number of people searching the Web is not diminishing as we get smarter and more informed about how to find stuff online. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

The smarter we get, the more information we are searching for. As a society, our thirst for information (as well as videos of people getting hit in their private parts) is only increasing.

We’re also not just searching for standard information any more. We’re searching for information about one another and ourselves (there’s no shame in admitting you do the occasional "ego surf" for your own name every now and again). Because of this, the landscape of what is a "search engine" is expanding. According to that same comScore report, companies like eBay, Craigslist, Facebook and even MySpace rack up searches in the several hundreds of millions (eBay alone gets nearly 450 million search queries every single month).

One thing is for certain: the search engine landscape is changing, and it has been going through one of its largest evolutions in the past few months because of the popularity of Twitter and the huge spike in the smartphone market (iPhones and BlackBerrys, specifically).

Those devices are less about making phone calls and much more about being connected. People are increasingly doing many more searches on their mobile devices. Along with that, content is being created in places like Twitter and using the photo-video capabilities of mobile device and people are searching for it. The ability to find, sort, aggregate and curate this content is going to get more complex. Search engines will help people sort the wheat from the chaff, but Google is not playing in all of these spaces (take a close look at Twitter Search if you’re interested in some real-world trending). It’s going to be an interesting 2010 as Google’s mobile platform, Android, gets rolled out and, if Apple announces a touch-tablet that is an iPhone-like device the size of a paperback novel, that will move the needle as well.

Whatever happens, search is changing as it moves away from one search box on an Internet browser to multiple search channels depending on the type of content you’re looking for on multiple devices (from laptop and desktop computers to mobile devices). If you don’t think this is going to change your consumer’s habits, it will.

Are you ready?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post the article here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

Montreal Gazette – The smarter we get, the more information we are searching for.

Vancouver Sun – The new search landscape is changing as we want more.


  1. “Search engines will help people sort the wheat from the chaff, but Google is not playing in all of these spaces (take a close look at Twitter Search if you’re interested in some real-world trending).”
    As usual, another great post Mitch. I wonder how soon Google will be in the business of “real-world trending” given the deal it inked recently with Twitter. I’ve been tracking my business, and increasingly it’s my latest Tweets that rank on the first page or two of Google. As time goes on, I wonder if businesses that tweet a lot will become frustrated with people finding tweets about them, but the actual website falling off the first page of Google. Obviously now the emphasis has to be on curating all these different sources, Google, YouTube, etc., so the cream rises to the search top for each user. But as you say, Google isn’t playing in all these spaces. Perhaps some upstart search company will.

  2. I’ll agree that real-time trending is massive. The change not only in how we search, but the nature of the data returned is massive – but I worry that we’re missing a beat in some not-directly-related areas.
    Businesses are learning to adjust to this, but what about education? I haven’t been able to find anyone doing any work with the school system to acclimate young people to the reality that knowledge is suddenly taking a back seat (in certain directions) to search savvy.
    Why learn when search is so fast?

  3. When people began referring to YouTube as a search engine, I thought it was an anomaly. But now Twitter is becoming a place people go to search for information. It’s nice to have altenratives to Google. And I love that YouTube and Twitter allow you to search for different types of information, or should I say receive it in different formats. I always assumed Google’s competition would be excactly like it, only with a different name, such as Yahoo, or remember AltaVista?

  4. I think that as society becomes more sophisticated in its information needs, society realizes that a “one size fits all” search engine does not fit their needs. Youtube is becoming the search for videos. Twitter is the search for real-time trends or news. And I am sure there will be other companies that will fill the search void that Google cannot meet.
    A great post.

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