Last week, Nielsen released search engine stats for July 2010. And while there weren't many surprises in the rankings -- at 64.2% market share, Google remains the 800-pound gorilla -- there was some shocking data to be found: over the past year, the number of searches conducted by folks in the U.S. has dropped by a whopping 16%.
Naturally, we have to ask: what does this mean? And more to the point: what does this mean for automakers and dealers?
First, we should point out that Nielsen's data includes only the top eight traditional search engines, like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.com. For the time being, we'll assume that includes searches conducted via mobile devices, too. However, we know for sure that social networks like Facebook and Twitter were not included in the rankings, and that both are growing like weeds.
Given that, here's our take:
1. Traffic from traditional search engines will slide.
No doubt about it: the way we interact with the web is changing. We'll continue to be curious -- that's just part of human nature -- but as it becomes easier for friends and strangers to share information, we'll have more guidance in our searches. In other words, we're not having to pull information from the interwebs as much as we once were; it's being pushed in our direction. Just look at your Twitter feed: nothing but links, right?
2. Traffic from social media will explode.
One of the best marketing tools is word of mouth -- particularly, word of mouth from friends or other people we respect. Google is great, but when we pull up search results, they're really just a bunch of links generated by a machine. Links suggested by friends, though? That's the kind of thing we're likely to check out -- and we're apt to do it much more often. Automakers and dealers who haven't gotten onboard with social media (lookin' at you, Penske) would be advised to board the train now.
3. Websites will become secondary -- a backup to Facebook pages, Twitter streams, and other stuff we can't even see yet.
A couple of weeks ago, Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff wrote a great article on the changing face of the web. (Of course, they declared the web was dead on a website. You can see the irony.) Their argument is that we're spending just as much time as ever in the digital world, but we're shying away from conventional article-and-comment websites and choosing to engage in other ways: Foursquare, Skype, Twitter, and a host of other apps and social media services. Maintaining a website will still be important, but it will become a secondary source; increasingly, consumers will arrive at the Honda website, or the Toyota website, or the Ford website, not from entering a URL in their address bar, but by following a link from some other source.
4. Advertising will become much more reliable and targetable via apps and SM sites.
Amazon did great things for advertisers. Many moons ago, when it introduced its "recommended" feature -- where it suggested books and movies you might like based on your browsing history -- Amazon opened a new world. It was a controversial world at first, with some likening the feature to spying, but we soon got over that. Google and others soon picked up the ball, serving ads based on search keywords and, eventually, location.
Today, advertising has become even more precise. With apps and social media sites, companies can earn a much, much better return on their advertising dollar, because their audience can be much, much better targeted. You've those sort of ads pop up on Facebook, and mobile platforms are slowly figuring out how to reach their audiences of one. Compare that to the shotgun approach required of print ads, or even media as highly segmented as radio, and it looks like a much brighter day for companies large and small. GM looks poised to take a big lead on this front, but there's plenty of time -- and room -- for others to catch up.