I’m going to bring it up again…apps vs mobile web. This is a terrible conversation to have – ever – but, for Google, it is the difference between (search) life and (search) death.
Sometime around mid-2014 global mobile users overtook desktop users for the first (and only) time. There ARE still over 1.6 billion desktop users on the planet so this isn’t about computers going away but it may as well be for Google’s primary business – serving ads on the desktop. Mobile usage continues to grow (up to over 4.5 billion smartphones in the next 5 years) and with that comes some serious changes in how we interact with technology. Gone will be the banner ads, gone will be search results, gone will be much input from us. Much of these will be replaced with contextual results or results obfuscated by layers on top of search like Siri or Alexa or Cortana or Google Now. This is a significant happening and could be the first sign of the end of the short life of search engines (which we wrote about back in 2012 here).
What supports this? Two staggering stats. The first are the holiday results of the breakdown between the usage of mobile apps and mobile web for Target customers. According to Flurry Mobile, 70% of mobile usage in 2014 was app-based (up from 20% last year). The second is from ComScore and the shift from general product searches from Google to Amazon. Product searches on Amazon were up 47% year over year. Searchers are skipping Google and heading right for Amazon and this trend is echoed on mobile. As Business Insider describes in a recent article, why go through 10 steps (search via a web browser on a smartphone) when you could just launch an app to find a product (be that the Amazon or Target or any retailer app).
The one big trend this points to is simplicity. We shouldn’t confuse simplicity with loyalty – that could be deadly. Companies that are winning now understand that mobile helps identify intent (something Google has banked on for their livelihood) but that needs to be followed up with a simple next step. This is where Amazon has had a laser-like focus: Their next step is you putting something in their cart. Amazon understands that once a search result ends up in your cart the conversation changes.
The gap between search results and the cash register is wide and deep – and getting wider and deeper by every smartphone activated. Smart companies understand that a colossal part of their success today is removing arbitrary chance from search results – something that mobile was made for.