The Secret’s Out: Google’s Not Invincible (and Probably Never Was)

From search rivals to the rise of mobile to international regulations, the pressure is mounting against Google. Are we seeing the beginning of the end of Google’s dominance?
January 8, 2015

The wolves are gathering. Google’s growth is slowing. By the end of last September, GOOG was down 4.3 percent for the year. Users are increasingly turning to other services for specific search queries, and there is concern that the giant won’t figure out how to squeeze into mobile before it gets left behind. This Goliath probably isn’t going down at the mercy of a boy with a sling and a rock, but the rest of the army isn’t shaking it their boots anymore either. Google is facing regulatory pressures in the EU on a couple of different fronts, and defending itself against lawsuit after lawsuit at home. Google is still the king of the hill for now, but there are chinks in their armor.

Lonely at the Top? Other Search Services Are Gaining.

Google still dominates the search world with 67% of desktop search share, but users are increasingly turning elsewhere for some search functions.

  • Facebook — Google fields 3.5 billion searches every day, but this past summer Facebook hit the one billion per day mark. For people and some forms of content, people are increasingly searching Facebook.
  • AmazonAmazon is taking aim at a specific subset of searches by trying to corner the market on product queries.
  • Twitter — Silently moving up the ranks, Twitter answers 2.1 billion searches every day, mostly for news and current event information.

Not to mention Bing got a boost when Apple pointed their Spotlight at the Google rival for their Yosemite software release this summer. There’s WolframAlpha for calculations and data-style facts, and DuckDuckGo is gaining a following (about seven million daily searches) as, “the search engine that doesn’t track you.” Google is still on top, there’s no doubt about it, but the margin may have peaked. Is it all downhill from here?

Is Google Mobile Friendly?

Marine experts maintain that a whale stranded on shore, even briefly, won’t survive if returned to the water. Removed from its native environment, the animal can’t survive it’s own inspiring size. There has been a lot of chatter over the closing numbers of the last couple business quarters, and whether or not its too late to roll Google back into the ocean. Third quarter numbers are continuing to show slowing growth. The increase of paid clicks was five percentage points lower, at 17% growth, than anticipated, and revenue came in just below expectations. The concern is fueled by the growth of mobile, and fears that Google isn’t keeping up. Mobile devices are now responsible for 55% of all internet traffic, and Google’s CPC has been on a slow-but-steady decline for the past two years. Some investors, reporters, etc. put those numbers together and say, “Google can’t adapt to mobile.” In fairness, other voices aren’t so skeptical. In a Search Engine Land post from this past summer, Ginny Marvin (@GinnyMarvin) pointed out a slew of other factors that are probably dragging down Google’s CPC:

  • Ads on Google Properties — The overall CPC rate isn’t restricted to search. It includes ads served up on YouTube, Maps, Finance, etc. If ads sold on YouTube for a lower price are getting more exposure and clicks, for example, that’s going to drive down average CPCs.
  • Emerging Markets — Google is growing in new, emerging markets, which means more and more of their business is taking place in markets that don’t drive the same high price for ads that the U.S. does.

The steady decline of Google’s CPCs might not be a sign of Google’s death-by-mobile, but regardless of the reason it is still declining. Even if “other factors” are the whole story, it still stands that the value of Google ads is sinking. As the search service continues to expand into more new markets, those markets will continue to start bidding for ads at lower and lower prices. If Google eventually saturates the available markets, the majority will be lower-cost, and the laws of supply and demand would suggest that ad prices will continue to drop.

Regulatory Pressures: Litigation, Fines, and Security Concerns

Google’s been under the gun a lot this past year, especially in Europe. All of the regulatory pressures may not come to definite conclusions for several years still, but the constant litigation raises concerns about the company’s security.

Google News Spain

In December, Richard Gingras, Head of Google News, announced that Google News in Spain would be shutting down in response to a new Spanish law. The law would require that Spanish publications charge Google News for displaying even the tiniest snippet from their works — whether those publications want to or not. Gingras noted,

As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable.

Google supporters argue that the move is more of a blow to Spanish news websites than Google. A similar situation highlighted Google News in Germany a month prior, when the country’s biggest news source blocked Google News from taking snippets of its publications. Traffic to the news site plummeted, and the publisher repented. If more markets continue to follow suit, though, Google might eventually be one changing their tune. If forced to halt their own scrapping in enough markets — or shutting down for other reasons, circa — it will eventually clear a path for competitors and weaken Google’s brand image in those markets.

Google and the EU

Google has been the subject of an antitrust investigation in the EU that at the dawn of 2015 seems no closer to a resolution than it has at any point in the past four years. In fact, Joaquín Almunia, the now former EU competition enforcer, recently predicted another decade of “regulatory pain” for Google. In May, the EU’s highest court ruled against Google to uphold Mario Costeja González’s, “right to be forgotten.” The case set a new precedent for users to request the deletion of links, and Google almost instantly faced about 12,000 requests for removal. Months later, Almunia ended his term by warning Google, “it was on the brink of charges for rigging search results to its own advantage, and hinted at launching a new probe into its Android mobile operating system.” The EU, of course, doesn’t have the power to order Google to break up its “monopoly,” but the company may be facing a “statement of objections.” That’s fancy talk for, “big fines” — up to 10% of Google’s global revenue, or about $6 billion.

What it Means for Your SEO

Google’s dominance in search (and potential to drive organic search traffic to your site) isn’t going away anytime soon. So what does all this mean for your SEO strategy? First, it is one more indication that your SEO needs to be rooted in a good content strategy. Even as search changes hands and shifts focus, resourceful/shareable content will always be relevant. Resource centers are a great tool for building a content strategy. Second, diversify your inbound traffic. If you haven’t started thinking about how to boost rankings on other search engines, it’s time to start. As other channels climb the ranks for specific searches, targeted content available on the right networks will stand out more and more. Don’t get caught off guard when the straw that breaks Google’s back finally falls. Finally, make sure you are actively building your own audience by converting the organic SEO traffic that’s coming in now. Next week we’re going to share some keys to tying your site design to your SEO strategy, to help improve on-site engagement. Google is definitely still on top of the search game, and SEO is at their mercy for now, but the secret is out: Google is not invincible.

Nate Dame
CEO and Founder
Nate is the founder and CEO of Profound Strategy, a results-oriented SEO consultancy trusted by forward-thinking companies, including a few of the world's largest B2B and technology brands. Profound Strategy builds holistic SEO strategies, supports internal teams, and offers full-service execution to create an organic search presence that generates significant revenue.

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