For years Google has dominated the internet and more or less held a monopoly on consumer searches. Nobody ever says, “Yahoo those song lyrics.” However, with rapid changes in social media and new trends in consumer behavior online, the giant now faces some uncharted challenges.
How does this affect you? Well, if your business up to this point has relied on Google searches to generate revenue, the following emerging trends are something you should keep an eye on to make sure your business doesn’t take an unexpected hit.
1. Organic reach is down.
Although Google is still the dominating force in search-engine traffic, consumers’ intelligence level and frame of mind have changed big time in just the past few years. First, organic reach is down. Organic reach is the number of people shown your post through unpaid distribution — and it’s down because users are searching elsewhere (see the next point).
Consumers are aware of the difference between sponsored listings and organic listings more so than ever before. This has arguably created cynicism in many users, who avoid clicking on paid ads altogether even though they’re often the best source of the information they seek. Since competition has gone up for many keywords, driving up the prices on ads and causing a frenzy of mixed information in organic-search results, users have begun trending toward internet searches, where they can confirm and mirror their peer groups’ opinions and decisions.
2. People want what their friends have.
The days are fading of people typing their searches into Google and trusting anything it spits back at them. This has people searching in new ways. Facebook’s move to step up its search options poses the largest threat to Google’s market share. When users search for something like a new restaurant or movie, they want to see the opinions and behaviors of people they actually know and respect. Google was too slow to adapt this trend and so it now has to either catch up or get left behind. Consumers are more likely to care what their friends’ favorite restaurant is than what restaurant is on the first page that comes up on a local Google search.
3. Mobile apps and niche social networks are taking market share.
We Millenials are the generation of Googling, Tindering and Uber-ing. We love to do everything on our phones, from looking up song lyrics to finding dates, to hailing a ride home after a wild night. Consumer traffic online is splitting into niches faster than reality-star couples are splitting up. With more competition online, app developers have seen great success in appealing to specific niches exclusively.
How does this affect SEO? The reason that this trend toward splitting-up is one of the biggest killers of traditional search engine strategies is that it gives tech-savvy users a much more targeted search option. Instead of searching all of Google for the best restaurants in Manhattan and being flooded with difficult-to-decipher results, users can search Yelp, an application completely dedicated to detailed lists of the best establishments, with review peer ratings, and make a more educated, simpler decision.
Likewise, a consumer who in the past may have searched for the latest fashion trends on Google is now more likely to search Pinterest. Therefore, as a marketer or business owner, it is more important to know where your customer is looking for your product, than to rely solely on your product appearing at the top of Google.
4. Facebook has faces.
You may not agree, but many people just don’t trust Google the way they used to. Facebook has the advantage of faces. Google lacks the incorporation of social proof. Although Google tried to to catch up by rolling out its Google Plus social network, and although it was forced on us like the Kardashians, the feature never could deliver benefits to users enough to justify using a second social network.
Social proof is one of the biggest driving factors in consumers’ decisions today and there is just no way to force or fake that. Until Google figures out a different way to out-appeal Facebook and give people a platform to socialize, to share where they eat, to party and kick back, Google may end up being a tool just for boring factual research, like those old-school hardcover encyclopedias consigned to the back shelf.
Search engines, specifically Google, will likely always be the place we go to get the information we need. However, the point is that now that customers have so many other options of where to search, it is important that businesses which traditionally relied fully on SEO to pick up customers be aware of where their customers are trending to — or get left behind.