Has the era of the search engine passed?

Vis Search Engine Land, I ran across these new stats from Nielsen yesterday, which appear to be good news for Microsoft and Bing:

MSN/Windows Live/Bing’s share has grown from 9.0% to 13.6% (a delta increase of 4.6% or a relative increase of 51%) while Yahoo!’s share has fallen from 17.1% to 14.3% (a delta drop of 2.8% or a relative drop of 17%). Consequently, over the last year Yahoo!’s delta lead over MSN/Windows Live/Bing has been reduced from 7.1% to only 0.7%.

A relative increase of 51%? That’s a very impressive uptick, although making that sort of gain is a lot easier when your initial share starts in the single digits, percentage-wise.

The statistic I found more startling, though, was this one:

The number of searches conducted in the U.S. over the last year has decreased by 16% from 10.5 billion in July 2009 to 8.8 billion in July 2010. MSN/Windows Live/Bing was the only one of the top three engines to have experienced an increase in search volume – a 28% increase from 0.9 billion to 1.2 billion.

Are you using search engines less than in the past? What’s your favorite starting point for search these days?

Adding … I’m still not sure what this means, exactly. Probably a combination of factors: Search is getting much better at some things, so you’re more likely to find the right answer to some types of questions in a single try. Google in particular is also getting worse at some types of searches, especially those related to trending topics and pop culture, where results pages are loaded with spam and useless junk. I’ve learned not to even bother for those types of searches.

Facebook and Twitter are no doubt handling some tasks that used to be done via search. And I frequently do the same things several commenters have noted, starting at Wikipedia if I’m confident that’s going to give me the best, cleanest result.

Maybe, collectively, we’ve all gotten 16% smarter at search?

18 thoughts on “Has the era of the search engine passed?

  1. I suspect a greater many people are spending their time on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Generally I still start my internet browsing off with a search, but I suspect less than 4 or 5 years ago.

  2. When Google debuted more than a decade ago, it’s a fairly useful tool to search for information online. Without a search engine, I seriously didn’t know how to know some web sites with the information I wanted. However, I’ve to recognize that the search engine does not necessarily provide the information I want. In fact, the search engine is more likely to give useless information. Search engine is merely a portal. It’s a portal to other web sites which may have the information I want. I may not know the address the other web sites. With search engine, I can gain access to those web sites with appropriate key words, especially when those web sites are popular. I no longer have to remember the URL of the web sites. With the built-in RSS reader within IE8, the most probable way for me to get access to latest news is through RSS feeds. I use search engine admittedly fewer than I first used it. It’s still useful. It’s just that we have more options than ever before. Many people also get latest news from twitters, Facebook, and some popular blogs. Back in 1998, blogs are far fewer than today.

  3. The problem is that Google’s usefulness, for me at least, is going down. I do many more Twitter searches than I did a year ago. I don’t use Facebook, but if I did, I suppose I would search their as well.

    Another BIG issue is that on A LOT of searches I do in Google, I get back a lot of spam results. These results often are just link sites which display your query at the top and have links to nothing but junk. These are useless and I see more and more of these in my results. I also see quite a few “SEO” sites, which have more “Like” and “Share” buttons on them than actual content. These facts combined just make searching not as pleasant as it once was.

  4. That is interesting. Come to think of it, I have been starting off at Wikipedia first for a lot of things.

    I think search engines have shot themselves in the foot in many ways, the first being noise. With the enormous amount of junk data out there on social networks, search-forwarding websites, etc., results are getting muddier on muddier. This is especially true if what you’re searching for is on the more obscure side of the internet.

    The second problem I’ve been having with search engines is getting recent data. A lot of times I’ll get forum posts on a subject and they’re 8 years old. A lot of times that doesn’t help.

  5. One thing that has really surprised me with Bing recently was when I went and did a search for the nutritional value of cabbage. At the bottom of the search results page it showed a nutrition chart for cabbage! I didn’t even have to visit a page to get the info.

    Very slick!

  6. Are phone searches counted in these metrics? About the only place I do searches anymore are on my phone. I rarely search via search engines since getting a smartphone (which was roughly a year and a half ago).

  7. Clearly, my campaign to get those who want to go to xyz.com to put that into the address box, not the search box is paying off. It’s amazing how many people do that.

    Seriously, the increasing presence of the combo search/address box is likely having an effect. But not 16% worth of effect, unless even more people start in the search box to get to known places than I realize.

  8. Bing seems to be up mainly because it’s the default search engine for fresh IE8 installations (I don’t imagine the campaign to donate to a charity when you try out Bing is making up those numbers). I don’t use IE enough to care to change the search engine – the novelty of using something other than Bing makes it worthwhile for me. Microsoft has smartly added a host of other “search providers” and even ways to update them (via a separate download) but it’s not as simple as a single button click. Microsoft can rely on user indifference and inertia to keep Bing the default for most. I don’t think it’s shady – it’s just a fact. In fact it’s a big improvement for new users over the old behavior which defaulted to MSN as your portal to everything.

    You don’t see those kinds of numbers posted for Wolfram Alpha, but if it was the default option for IE8, you probably would.

    It’s interesting to note that Bing has a lot of work behind it. I did a search on torii once (those red gates in Asian cultures) and was surprised to find that there’s a Bing-branded clone of Wikipedia, using the free license. Superficially, you wouldn’t notice any difference besides the Bing logo in place of Wikipedia’s.

    One other thing that I’m not seeing addressed but which may be a factor: Google’s (rather spooky) autocomplete brings up possible matches as you type. It’s partially a testament to how much better search technology and hardware have gotten, but it often prevents people from having to hit “enter” (“I’m feeling lucky” is now an anachronism; I never used it and its relevance is slipping further with this feature).

    On a related note, think about your browsing habits…I don’t use RSS because punching in the URL of the few non-headline news sites I check are in memory (and modern browsers autocomplete them anyway, which John Baxter mentions above). But for headline news, Google has a usually pretty competent selection of headlines on iGoogle’s “Top Stories” box, which is front and center in the window; I rarely even have to go to Google News because once on a website I just follow links around.

    I think that’s the final piece of the picture: Everybody is so jealous these days (with good reason) of visibility and diligent to update that once you get to a news page (or anything syndicated) you can spend days just reviewing that day’s output. I can’t guess how much of the ‘net works like that, but many of the top “‘net employed” are SEO (Search Engine Optimization) freaks…but the core of what they do is get linked by other top sites. Look at the New York Times, for instance – I read Dick Cavett’s blog on the Times or Paul Krugman’s op-eds a lot less frequently when they’re not linked on the side of a news article.

  9. Jardyze above makes a good point. Its amazing how much out-of-date stuff comes up when searching technically related queries. Some of those forums need to get with it. There is no doubt the increasing popularity of social networking ie. facebook\twitter etc has had a dramatic effect on the search percentage reduction and that will only continue for the foreseeable future.

  10. The real question is when this will hit Google in the pocketbook — ad revenues. So the total volume of searches is going down. Are these from profitable people? Aren’t Google’s most profitable users the less-savvy people who don’t realize that the links in the box up are ads? I don’t think these people have changed their search habits as much as the digerati have.

    Fun demonstration: Go into Google Finance, plot GOOG vs. MSFT, and then use the slider to explore the last four years. You will be stunned at how much Google stock has stagnated — all while the news media was giving us breathless accounts of Google taking over the world. (Note: this doesn’t work for five years, because Google was still skyrocketing five years ago.)

  11. Wikipedia is like the old DMOZ.org online directory concept resurrected but actually successful – pruned information that is dense and more available helps users spend more time with raw relevant data, and so (even if we take into account any biases or problems with Wikipedia) a lot more time is available for digesting good information. The rigid top-down structure is a boon to users in that case. Of course, this doesn’t apply to the Internet itself, as the organization of communities or blogs is nonpermanent and migratory – so the search engine is still invaluable at times. Still, increasingly I’m finding that I use the search engine to go on historical digs, finding what kind of nonsense was being peddled ten years ago instead of today, that kind of thing – at least that’s the a possible rationalization when I don’t get what I’m looking for.

    I don’t think that we can expect forums to update their content. People will always be asking questions on Forums (and getting many bad answers) because they prefer to get information from other people – and in some cases, for example questions about new technology, there are no alternative sources. But once interest in a topic dries up, there is no incentive for people to do even basic housecleaning on old topics. And, let’s face it, everybody occasionally likes to revisit that old flame war to laugh at how silly so-and-so was five or ten years ago.

    One last thing – though the actual search engine may be losing some searches, that doesn’t mean they are less profitable. Anybody remember when Google started offering their custom search boxes for websites? Wikipedia (or any other website utilizing tags or some other form of organization) can probably get away with a less sophisticated search algorithm (I’m guessing article titles first, then mentions in text), but Google has as its goal searching through all information on the ‘net.

  12. I’ve been going straight to Wikipedia more than I did a year ago.

    The ‘do no evil’ thing is coming back to haunt Google. I think they’ve lost trust with some folks. Also, years ago the only place to get good results was Google. Today, type a general search into any engine, and you get basically the same results.

    Also, I think there is little brand loyalty for search. Ipads, etc are an outward symbol people see you carry. No one really knows or cares where you do search. How often do you see someone’s homepage? Do you really think someone is more/less interesting if they use Google vs Bing?

    While I don’t use Twitter or Facebook, I would believe this is definately a factor. If people spend X hours a day on the internet and 60% of that is on Facebook, that leaves less need for searching.

  13. “It’s the economy stupid”….Ain’t it always? Fewer $ to spend …less product comparison shopping….In my case anyway.

  14. The reason for the decrease is that people are finding that they don’t have as much time to waste these days. The economy is too rough to sit idle as much as in the past.

    I’m lost without a good search engine. They’ll never pass IMHO.

    And, Ed, I’m surprized at you. Using sensationalist article headings. That’s somewhat unlike you?

  15. Sensationalist headline? Not sure where you get that. It’s a legitimate question. A 16% drop in one year is profound and as far as I can tell no one else has noted that data point or asked that question.

  16. These days people are too busy with Facebook to bother using search engines. My search engine habits have changed a bit over the last year or so, but they haven’t decreased and most notably with Google. For the first three quarters of the decade I never failed to find what I was looking for on the first Google search and usually within the first couple of pages, but these days those types of results are fewer and farther between. I now hit Bing more and more. Bing delivers different results on a lot of searches now, which is nice to finally have a viable alternative.

  17. Another late update, but I have to disagree strongly with Narg’s analysis. If you’re working, you’re working harder than before in many cases – but many people are still unemployed. I’m not getting into the whole political thing of denouncing “welfare queens driving Cadillacs” by adding ‘net searching to the list of unpatriotic things they do. (haha, this slays me.)

    I’m going to instead assume that a lot of the net usage – and there’s no statistics saying net usage is down that I know of, not by 16% certainly – is legit and that people simply are circumventing using the old web portal Google, and even when it’s still their web portal (every new browser window is a new hit to Google’s website for many users, but it’s not a new web search) they are getting where they need to go without a search.

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