Google is the king of search. Right? I think most people would agree with that statement.
What if I told you that Google may be the king of search, but may not be the king of search data?
Consider the following. Unlike Yahoo’s “life engine” or other sites that want you to spend a lot of time on their site, Google’s whole job is to get you to click a link and go away. Based on my unofficial survey, asking this question to hundreds of people, it’s safe to say that the average user spends less than ten seconds doing a Google search.
ComScore states that the average user does 129 Google searches per month. That’s about four a day. If my ten-second estimate is correct, that means we’re spending less than one minute a day on Google search. Just for fun, let’s triple that number and agree that we’re doing ten to twelve searches every day and spending about three minutes on Google. With me so far?
According to emarketer.com, in 2013, average adults in the US spent roughly five hours per day online. If we’re spending less than five minutes on Google that means that we’re spending a lot of time online, NOT on Google.
Next question. How do we get around the internet? Do other sites have search bars? Sure. Look at Amazon, ZDNet, USA Today, Web MD, Travelocity, Parents.com, social media channels, every news site, blogs and forums. Search events take place on all of these sites all the time.
But search data comes from more than just typing a keyword into a search box. Consider how you get around the web – by clicking links. And every time you click a link from one page to another, you’re creating search data that tells the site a little about you. If I’m on CNET, reading an article about the iPhone, and click a link from that article that looks like this: best iPhone 5S and iPhone 5 cases, CNET now has data that associates me as a user with an interest in iPhone cases – simply because I clicked on that link. You may even be able to assume that I own an iPhone 5 or 5S.
Not only that, every URL contains keyword relevant data. Every single page of every single site on the internet has its own unique URL. Each URL contains a structure, and that structure can be broken down into keyword data that identifies the main keyword content of the page. So as a user surfs the web, these URLs can be used to determine additional search data associated with the user. This URL from CNET tells us that the user has an interest in iPhone cases, no matter how this user arrived here. (A Google search? Maybe. A link from a Facebook friend? Possibly.)
Some URLs even contain actual search events, i.e. q=search event or s=search event. In this example taken from Parents.com, a search for “danger of high fever” in the search box results in a URL that contains information specific to the search event.
Sites that you visit collect this data. They use it to understand more about their site visitors and how they can make their site better. They use it to learn about their audience so they can create better content for future visits. This data is also helpful if they are selling advertising. They can tell potential advertisers about the audience they’ll get in front of by advertising with them.
Here’s something you may not know. Websites also sell this data as a way of monetizing their site traffic. Companies like Oracle’s Bluekai purchase this data from publishers, then package it into audience segments to resell to companies who do targeted display. Data vendors will mix both good and bad data together in order to continue to pay the vast publisher network they collect their data from.
I don’t have any hard stats for you that compare how much online search data there is compared to the billions of Google searches that take place every day. (It would take every website that collects and sells this data making their information public to come up with that stat.) But if you follow my simple logic about how much time is being spent on Google (<5 minutes/day) compared to how much time we are surfing the web (>5 hours/day), I think you’ll come to understand that Google may not be the king of search that people think it is.
I will say this for Google. It is often the first place that searches take place. Very few people could argue that Google is where we go when we want to do a search. Their name is a verb that means search for crying out loud.
But true research takes place on the rest of the internet – all your favorite news sites, tech sites, blogs, forums and social networks – those places where you’re spending the majority of your five hours online. Targeted Display provider, Simpli.fi’s CEO, Frost Priealou said in a blog post “Google might be the primary search, but search behavior continues in other places as people start refining and narrowing their content options.”
Again, I offer no hard evidence, but ask that you use common sense and think this through. Google search is “tip of the iceberg” – meaning that we begin our searches on Google, but then do the majority of our research on those sites that know much more about the subject matter that we are researching.
Consider a parent looking to send her daughter to college. She may search Google for “best colleges in Kansas”. Those results will lead her directly to some of those schools in Kansas, but may also lead her to education related message boards, forums, blogs, review sites, and articles about colleges in Kansas on her favorite news sites. As she travels from site to site, she creates search data that speaks to her interest in college. Of all of that search data, only the first search came from Google. Do we really need that particular search to know that this is a mother researching colleges for her daughter? Most of the time, no.
And because so many websites exist to make money, or at least many of them want to make money in order to support the site, most are willing to sell their data. Because of that, every user’s search data is available, and in great quantity – with or without Google search.