While many complain about Google's increased monopoly and control over our lives, in this article, I offer a different perspective regarding Google search. I will go as far as to claim that Google's influence (as a search engine) is declining. Not that their traffic share or revenue is shrinking, to the contrary, both are probably increasing. And Google is moving in many other directions business-wise: Search might have been their first, most used and most well-known product, but the future for Google is no longer search.
The decline of Google Search
The decline (and weakening of monopoly) is taking place in a subtle way. In short, Google is no longer the first source of information, for people to find an article, a document, or anything on the Internet.The trend seems to have started in the last two years or so, as suggested in Figure 1. This is confirmed when looking at weblog statistics for various websites: In our case, Google search (organic) represents less than 14% of our US traffic (thought it has been growing faster outside US) and down from 25% two years ago, and down from 30% four years ago. The same applies to many websites that I follow, according to Alexa. While our traffic has been growing steadily, Google has been the most sluggish source of growth.
What has happened over the last few years is that many websites are now getting most of their traffic from sources other than Google. Google is no longer the main source of traffic for most websites, because webmasters pursue other avenues to generate relevant traffic, in particular social networks and newsletter - as it is easier to attract the right people and promote the right content through these channels. Think about this: How did you discover Data Science Central? For most recent members, the answer is not Google anymore. In that sense, Google has lost its monopoly when it comes to finding interesting information on the Internet. The reason is that Google pushes more and more search results from partners, their own products, possibly content that fits with its political agenda, big advertisers, old websites, big websites, and web spammers who find a way to get listed at the top. In the meanwhile, websites such as ours promote more and more articles from little high quality publishers and great bloggers that have a hard time getting decent traffic from Google. For them, we are a much bigger and better source of traffic, than Google.
Finally, Google (in our case) boosts mostly articles that are highly popular, based on traffic statistics from Google Analytics, which Google has access to. Not a bad thing for sure, but it makes the content accessible via Google more narrow, less rich. Even when doing my own research to write a blog, more and more, I find the best content outside Google, using sources such as Quora, GitHub, StackExchange, LinkedIn Pulse, Twitter, Facebook, ResearchGate, Reddit, and specialized websites.
Figure 1: Trend for search keyword 'Google', according to Google trends
The end of Google Enterprise Search
We have used Google Enterprise Search - at a cost of $2,000 a year - to power our search engine on Data Science Central, thinking that they were the best provider and that they would never discontinue this core product. And indeed it still does a great job at delivering search results for niche content hosted on a number of related websites. Now this service will be discontinued in a few days, replaced by a free version filled with crappy, irrelevant ads, see Figure 2 below. And we won't receive any revenue for displaying these ads. We are thus transitioning to a different solution, you can have a preview here. Google worked well as it used traffic statistics (from Google Analytics) to boost popular articles. Great search engines typically boost articles that are popular, recent, and relevant.
Figure 2: Email sent by Google to webmasters using Google Enterprise Search
An opportunity for entrepreneurs
Interestingly, this creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs willing to develop a search engine, or willing to offer search functionality to niche websites. At $2,000 a year for 1,000 customers, this would be a $2 million dollars company, with very little overhead costs, and without the need for VC funding. Search engine companies still have a long way to go to improve the technology, see here. Even a modest search engine, indexing only a billion webpages, could do much better than Google if done right. I believe the core of the Internet - the webpages contributing 99% of the value of the Internet - span over less than 10,000,000 websites, and total fewer than 100,000,000 webpages: Something entirely manageable for a small startup, and even for a one-man operation. I could run it through my laptop if I had the time to work on this project.