The Imminent Demise of Search-Engine Marketing

the-imminent-demise-of-search-engine-mar_001 main image

Google's move to marginalize all but Alphabet companies is wreaking havoc on search results.

*          *          *

Sometime back I wrote an article lamenting the demise of the democratic web. I was looking specifically at a number of unsettling data points that had me in a rant, including the following:

  • Almost half of the businesses in the US don't even have a websitechoosing, instead, to rely entirely on social media platforms for customer engagement.
  • Some social platforms (okay, Facebook) are rapidly eliminating models that enable small businesses to play for free.
  • Of the 1.8 million websites in the world, more than 90% have gone inactivehaving been, in essence, abandoned.

In short, I concluded that the business web was broken, and that it was now a place where only the grotesquely large could compete. But I recently happened upon a couple of different articles that I find chilling, and not just for small businesses, in fact, for any business not named Google.

Search Numbers Don’t Lie

Rand Fishkin recently wrote a piece entitled “How Much of Google’s Search Traffic is Left for Anyone But Themselves?” The article highlights primary data generated by Jumpshot (ceased operations) that reveals the results of analysis of 150 billion Google searches. Here is where Fishkin’s article gets scary:

  • 48.96% of all Google searches are zero click, meaning the answer to the searcher’s query is found at the top of search results. Consequently, clicking on some third-party site’s link to get an answer is unnecessary.

Take, for example, the search term, “what is content marketing.” With this search, Google, itself, generates the definition, which it puts at the top of the page, along with a list of other potential topics a searcher might want answers to:

Note that the site with the top organic result (Content Marketing Institute) for the search string “what is content marketing” has been pushed below the fold, a fact which has, no doubt, harmed its organic traffic. Note also all the other information options that exist between Google’s definition and CMI’s citation.

  • 7.2% of search results go to sponsored links (paid advertisements).
  • 6.01% of searches go to sites owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company.
  • 45.03% of searches get divided among the rest of us.

Google vs. Amazon’s Alexa

Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner points to this same data and provides interesting insight:

  • Amazon’s Alexa is designed to provide a single answer to a question.
  • Google is designed to provide millions of answers to a question.

Stelzner’s aha moment comes when he realizes Google is changing its business model, that the search giant is becoming the web-based version of Alexa. Of course, Alexa, as good as it is, can’t handle anything beyond simple questions, right? So those of us in the search-engine marketing business ought to be okay, right? Today, maybe, but what about the future?

According to Stelzner,

. . . in 2014, Google spent more than $500 million to purchase the artificial intelligence company DeepMind? Over the last few years, Alphabet (Google’s holding company) purchased 38 AI-related businesses.

Clearly Google has its eyes on a bigger prize, capturing an ever growing percentage of sophisticated search queries for itself. But where does this end?

For Social Media Examiner, the dominant how-to brand for social-media marketing pros, the implications are dire. Already, SME has seen a dramatically negative impact on its organic traffic. So, even with all of its mass, SME will have to scramble to maintain its position in the market.

Where to Go from Here

Like anyone who spends anytime on the web, I’d noticed the clutter at the top of search results. And it occurs to me now that lots of my searches end without me clicking on anything. With this new reality in mind, Stelzner acknowledges the elephant in the room: what good does it do to rank high in results if no one sees your citation anyway? Put another way, why spend time and money chasing a devalued metric?

So what does all this mean for the future?

At Mojified, we’d already accounted for the fact that the large majority of websites can’t get search-based traffic—at least, nowhere near enough to fuel growth initiatives. In fact, our business model is based on this premise; our goal is to revitalize the democratic web by enabling anyone to play the content-marketing game, which, by the way, isn’t necessarily dependent on search traffic.

Just as Stelzner and SME have now made a major commitment to YouTube, almost certainly because of Google's search-engine land grab, Mojified is accentuating emaila channel that our customers own and can depend on for the foreseeable future.