Power on, open the browser, enter the web address, enter keywords in the search box, and find the information you need. The standard operation of more than ten years ago does not look so cool today?
This is not an illusion.
As early as 2009, China CNNIC data showed that the utilization rate of users’ search services for news, information, shopping and other information has declined, and the user loyalty of Baidu and Google has also decreased by 1.2% and 2.7%, respectively. CNNIC analysis believes that some professional websites such as shopping and business travel have increasingly improved functions and high accuracy of information, which has diverted some users.
It now appears that 2009, when classic search engines began to decline, was also the beginning of the rise of smart phones.
Technological innovation will always bring a new ecosystem that matches it. Two information portals created by smartphones: one is a voice assistant, and the other is an application. They have cut away the original search engine cake.
Voice assistants are often used to answer questions. In essence, this is also a search that has changed the medium. Change from input text to input sound, and change from output result list to voice broadcast single content.
People used to rely on Baidu and Google to search for daily information such as weather and news. Now this has become a common job for voice assistants. For these problems that only require one result, using a voice assistant is much more convenient than a search engine.
According to the 2016 “Internet Trends” report, between 2013 and 2015, the proportion of US smartphone users using voice assistants rose from 30% to 65%. In 2016, Google’s voice search volume increased 35 times compared to 2008. The smart speaker born in the concept of voice assistant is also challenging the authority of search engines.
Research organization Voicebot.ai mentioned in a study released in 2018 that 79.1% of users have the habit of using smart speakers every month, including 45.5% of users who are already in “daily use”. The smart home represented by smart speakers can be said to be a new entry for search in the AI era.
Although voice assistants can carry a lot of work for search engines, it is difficult to carry search engine advertising business models, such as bidding rankings. It is difficult to provide traffic services to other companies.
Currently, voice broadcast advertisements have been added to some smart speakers. However, compared with the advertising space of traditional search engines, voice advertising also has obvious problems: advertising is only broadcast when the user’s geographic location is perceived, which is suspected of infringing user privacy; advertisements that are broadcast loudly are difficult to skip, which also violates the user’s personal space.
In addition to voice search, application ecology is also the enemy of search engines, all over the world.
Google mentioned in the 2019 annual report that in addition to e-commerce and social products, Google also faces competition from vertical product search and video platforms, such as Kayak (travel query), LinkedIn (job query), WebMD (health query) , Hulu (video platform) and TikTok.
These rising stars not only took away users, but also directly squeezed the profitability of traditional search engines. EMarketer data shows that the US search advertising market grew by nearly 18% in 2019, but Google’s share of it has been shrinking, from 73.1% in 2019 to 70.5% in 2021.
In China, vertical apps have invaded the search engine market more fiercely, and Baidu, which did not pay enough attention to the mobile Internet at the beginning, suffered the most.
With the rapid development of China’s mobile Internet, the number of users of vertical apps has become larger and larger, becoming a unique super app in China. According to the 2018 semi-annual report of QuestMobile, the core traffic of Chinese mobile Internet users is firmly occupied by several apps such as WeChat and Taobao.
These super apps have greatly squeezed the living space of Baidu search. Market education has been completed, and consumers are already very clear about what information to use and what App.
CNNIC’s “Research Report on the Use of Search Engines by Chinese Netizens in 2019” shows that the use rate of search engines for finding catering and entertainment services is already less than 40%. There is no doubt that super apps such as Meituan Dianping have robbed the job of the original search engine.
In terms of shopping, downloading and entertainment, nearly half of users do not need search engines. What’s more serious is that even for professional knowledge, work and study, some users have begun to abandon search engines and turn to knowledge communities, paid courses, etc.
The advantage of search engines has always been the all-encompassing search results. But in the mobile Internet era, apps have replaced websites. When the key to product operation changes from “winning traffic” to “keeping users”, the traffic generated by search engines is far less attractive than the user stickiness brought by content. Super App began to build its own content moat, hoping to circle users in the App with “exclusive” content.
This is also reflected in daily life. More and more people are searching for news on Weibo and WeChat, searching for attractions and restaurant tips on Ctrip and Meituan, and searching for products on Taobao and Xiaohongshu. Baidu’s “Baidu Encyclopedia”, which has spent 14 years on the productivity of the whole people, was also robbed of users by Zhihu.
Under the simultaneous squeeze of the application and the voice assistant, the traditional search box showed signs of decline. At the same time, browsers, which are the main entrance of search engines, are gradually being abandoned by users. Statistics from Aurora Big Data show that from the second half of 2018 to the first half of 2019, the proportion of browsers in the average daily use of apps by Chinese mobile Internet users has fallen all the way, from 4.1% in Q3 2018 to 3.4%.
With multiple “strikes”, the life of search engines is difficult. Google’s financial report shows that for the full year of 2019, Google’s advertising revenue growth rate has ushered in the first decline in nearly five years. For Google, this is obviously a dangerous signal. Baidu’s “online marketing services” revenue also saw its first decline in nearly a decade in its 2019 financial report.
Globally, WeChat with more than 1.2 billion daily activities, 400 million Douyin, and 500 million Taobao have blocked search engine crawling. If Twitter, Amazon, and Facebook also block content from search engines, how much content can be found on search engines?
Search engine transformation
The first is to compete for traffic entry.
At the I/O conference in May 2016, Google released the Google Home smart home device equipped with the Google Assistant voice assistant, which refers to the Amazon Echo.
Coincidentally, Baidu released smart speakers in 2018. Relying on its deep cultivation in the field of “AI + search”, Baidu surpassed Ali in just one year, occupying the top market share in China.
Search engines are looking for the entrance that every user needs to obtain information. Baidu has a browser, Google has Android and Chrome, and Sogou uses input methods. These are all ways the search business seeks to break the game. But this is far from enough.
As a “content porter”, if search engines cannot get rid of their dependence on external products and information, the future of search will remain stagnant. What kind of content can compete with the increasingly specialized and closed super apps?
Search engine vendors are trying to turn themselves into super apps. Baidu is learning the centralization strategy of super apps.
Google is also exploring its own content ecology with Google Map as its core. In May 2018, Google Map updated the “Explore” tab, began to recommend local content with personalized algorithms, and launched the “You Match” function to guess user habits.
Soon, Google Maps integrated functions such as hotel reservations, real-time events, and flight inquiries. Uber, Lime, DoorDash, and dozens of food ordering platforms have also joined Google Maps.
Google is also concerned about the production of content. Google launched a program to provide emergency funding to thousands of small and medium-sized local news media around the world.
Search is not dead
In the past two years, there are still some changes in the search field. In 2019, Toutiao launched a headline search known as the “new generation search engine”. In 2020, Tencent acquired Sogou. However, whether it is “information flow + search” or PPC, that small search box does not seem to contain more novelty.
Search itself will not die. Where there are people, search is there.