Google’s Becoming a Content Competitor, but This Isn’t New
In 2019 we’ve seen some drastic changes in Google’s traffic, mostly in the form of zero click searches. These searches keep people on Google’s SERP (instead of following a link to a site) due to featured snippets and “position zero” content Google populates with externally sourced information. After issues regarding song lyrics and Genius, Google has included an attribution to these featured snippets, but with the answer already fulfilled most people never need to click out of Google.
Google is therefore becoming somewhat of a content competitor, but this isn’t new. Search engines have been content providers for years.
In the LSC Webinar, “What’s Up With Google,” we can see how the SERP uses featured snippets to provide answers to queries. This has resulted in the criticism that Google is no longer a search engine but now an answer engine.
In a study by Sparktoro, Google has seen a decrease in organic clicks and an increase in zero click searches between 2016 and 2019. That same study shows that in June 2019 just over 50% of all searches resulted in zero clicks. This means that over half of queries were either satisfied by features on the SERP, or resulted in navigation away from Google’s SERP without clicking a link.
Now Google isn’t producing its own content. Google is using schema and structured data from high ranking websites and putting that information in “position zero,” above the first linked result. Questions that have quick answers, like “how old is Betty White,” will show the result in position zero. While it’s still giving credit, it’s not enough to make up for the lack of traffic. This is extremely helpful for searchers in a pinch at bar trivia but not great for SEOs trying to drive traffic.
Yahoo’s presence precedes Google’s existence, yet the search engine is not as prominent. However, Yahoo’s unique content providing services set them apart from Google’s prowess.
Yahoo was once the most cutting-edge site on the internet. You could host emails, search, customize your home page and read the latest news. At one point they even published a magazine about internet life! Yahoo is still a content site, publishing sections on news, finance, sports, politics and entertainment. Yahoo even has a shopping tab, just like Google. It seemed as if Yahoo was on track to becoming what Google is today.
In a simple search for movie times, Yahoo supplies a SERP with all the usual suspects we all associate with Google’s SERP. There’s a paid ad for Charlie’s Angels in position one followed by a selection of drop-down menus with local theaters and movie times. The attribution to the drop-down menu is simply Yahoo and, while there’s the option to navigate to the theater’s page, there’s almost no need when every movie and every movie time can be visible.
Bing is a much younger search engine, only 10 years old in 2019. When Microsoft announced Bing it called it a “decision engine,” geared towards helping people make better decisions, and replacing Microsoft’s Live Search as a way to compete with Yahoo and Google. In that same 2009 announcement, Microsoft included the suite of programs Bing would offer like Virtual Earth, Bing Maps for Enterprise, Bing Travel and Bing cashback.
Instead of differing from Google, Bing has taken a similar approach to fulfilling queries, especially those easily answerable questions. Let’s ask about Betty White again. Results are almost identical to Google’s: position zero has the answer with an information right side bar. While there are links in the side bar, the query was fulfilled by position zero.
While Bing’s SERP for a simple question-answer query looks like Google’s, it’s not entirely preventing people from navigating elsewhere (there’s one organic search result above the fold and below an ad for the latest Mister Rogers film). However, in terms of total usage, Google is at 92.78% market share while Bing is at 2.55% and Yahoo is at 1.61%. In short, Bing and Yahoo’s SERPs don’t make the same impact as Google’s.
Not to say Google is exempt from criticism for preventing earned web traffic, but they are setting a precedent for other search engines to do the same. Where do SEOs go when search engines become traffic gatekeepers?