How worried should we be about Google’s monopoly over web traffic?
The internet has evolved over the last three decades: today, when we open our browsers, they will probably go straight to Google, either because it’s our home page or the default search engine, which means that anything we type in the address bar is processed through the search engine.
For a lot of people, if the Google logo does not appear when the browser is opened, the internet “isn’t working”. But the company doesn’t just enjoy near total dominance over how we look for things, it also pretty much controls what we find.
This is the zero-click or clickless strategy outlined in this September 2018 entry on the company’s blog: more and more of the terms we enter in the search engine generate a result within the search engine itself, at the top of the list of results, which eliminates the need to click to access another site. In the image, a small test I carried out: it didn’t matter if I looked for information about the stock market, the price of bitcoin, how my football team did, what’s on at the movies, the best seafood restaurant nearby, about how fly to Madrid, the weather or the traffic, Google’s answers take me to its own results page, prominently located, so I don’t have to go looking elsewhere.
A recent study by SparkToro showed that less than half of Google searches ended in a click outside of Google. The company that in 2004 stated its mission as “we want to get you out of Google and to the right place as fast as possible”, now wants to monopolize your time. If it can provide you with the answer to what you want to know immediately, either by consolidating the information from a third party or through its own service, it does so.
On mobile devices, where most of the search traffic is currently generated, organic searches have decreased by approximately 20% and instead have been replaced by sponsored searches or by queries that present fragments of information, eliminating the need for us to click on the links provided.
There is now pretty much no need to leave the Google page: in addition to searches, there are advanced calculations, conversions; you can also find your IP address, as well as a job or a recipe, Wikipedia entries… an increasing amount of the information that users usually look for appears consolidated within the Google page, which is now practically a universal interface where we will no longer see the URL of where we are.
The result of controlling a search engine that in many countries has a market share of more than 90% with the browser used by more than 65% of people is a recipe for success. This is taking the company’s mission, “to organize the information of the world and make it universally accessible and useful”, to the maximum expression. Nobody could accuse the company of not sticking to its mission, and what’s more, people think this is a good thing, because it provides them with the answers they seek more quickly. Some 94% of searches take place on a page owned by Google, be it the search engine itself, Google Images, YouTube, Google Maps or some other, and more than half of them end there, without generating traffic to any other site.
No one ever imagined that a single company would exercise such an extraordinary control over the internet.
(En español, aquí)