Will Mobile Apps Be Google’s Undoing? (Hint: No)

Google mobile app logoThe New York Times offers an interesting story about Google and the competitive landscape of mobile. The headline is “As Web Search Goes Mobile, Competitors Chip at Google’s Lead.” The central idea of the article is that while Google is used on the PC equally to discover information and to navigate to specific sites, on smartphones people go directly to apps such as Amazon, Kayak or Yelp.

As a basic matter, that’s accurate. However, quoting Danny Sullivan, the story also acknowledges that there’s still a great deal of mobile search activity, which is dominated by Google. Indeed, according to StatCounter, Google’s global mobile search market share is roughly 95 percent.

Yet, we also know that “four out of five minutes” spent on mobile devices are spent with apps (per comScore). And, Nielsen said previously that roughly 80 percent of mobile time is with apps rather than the browser.

Yesterday, Flurry Analytics published findings based on five years of smartphone traffic data. The company affirmed that the majority of time spent is with apps. Echoing the Nielsen figure, Flurry said that 80 percent of mobile consumer time is on apps. And Facebook is the single dominant mobile app.

Flurry mobile apps vs. web

This all supports the premise of the NY Times’ piece: there’s different user behavior in mobile and apps to grab some query volume that might otherwise go to Google in a PC context. However, as I argued earlier this year, Google is adapting quickly and accommodating mobile user interests. In more and more cases it offers “answers” and fewer Web links, which marginalizes many publishers.

Even though Google has lost some traffic to apps, people are still using search in mobile (and it’s more valuable than PC search to marketers). Google controls the homescreen of most Android devices with its prominent search box, while mobile Safari drives a great deal of default Google search volume on iOS. In addition, Google has the number-one local search app in the form of Google Maps.

With Enhanced (AdWords) Campaigns, the company has moved aggressively to close the monetization gap between PC CPCs and mobile clicks — cleverly under the umbrella of simplification.

Having said that, Google does face a somewhat more competitive environment in mobile from Apple/Siri, Facebook (potentially) and the fragmented universe of apps, as the NY Times argues. Yet, mobile consumers clearly use search — especially on tablets — as a primary tool. It’s just that their behavior on smartphones, in particular, is more nuanced, complex and perhaps “democratic” than on the PC.

Far from being undone by mobile, Google remains dominant in many ways, including mobile advertising revenue. Yet, many publishers, through mobile apps, have also escaped the “Google tax” or “Google toll” (as it is sometimes called) and what many perceive to be the infuriating capriciousness of the Google algorithm.

Related Topics: Apple: Maps | Apple: Siri | Channel: SEM | Facebook: Facebook Search | Google: AdWords | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Mobile | Google: Web Search

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • http://twitter.com/DavidVallejo David Vallejo

    No way. Google Maps dominates app-based searches. Everyone has their eye on Local Search now and Google, once again, is leading. Interested to see how Facebook’s change of “Nearby” to “Local Search” will impact marketshare.

  • Yeye Yates

    Actually, mobile apps complements well with Google. Google runs Google PlayStore that already hosts a large number of apps. From what I read (so far) FB-Home is a step back when compared with Google’s search app. For those who has a raised eyebrow, you can use ColibriTool (http://colibritool.com) to measure the amount of traffic coming from Google search results of mobile devices

  • http://twitter.com/interartsllc Interactive Arts LLC

    What’s kind of telling about the Flurry survey is that local search isn’t mentioned once as an activity. This flies a little bit in the face of other studies published recently. Possibly this study relies too much on earlier data (“based on five years of smartphone traffic data”)?

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