When Google will replace 100% of your website

Technique, User Experience

7 Oct, 2019

Google has always enriched its page with search results, but since 2011, the addition of more and more advanced features tends to suggest that the famous search engine tries to retain a captive audience, such as a “horizon of events” around a black hole, captures the rays of light without ever letting them escape….

Google’s search results page (also called SERP for Search Engine Result Page) is THE most visited and used page in the world. And for good reason: it is most often the first page consulted when you log in. Who doesn’t have it on the home page?

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A real “gateway” to the web, this page concentrates a large part of Google’s innovations in search, and it is also the one that generates, thanks to advertising (Google Ads, Google Shopping… etc.), the largest part of the firm’s turnover.

But this “front door” seems to be gradually closing, as the user has less and less need to visit a website to discover its content, or even to make a purchase. Audience retention seems to be an increasingly strong and effective strategy, as it is done at all levels of web browsing.

By opening the perspective of a full Google navigation, rendering obsolete the very notion of website, Google takes up a hermetic and captive web logic, a logic initiated and partly successful by Facebook at the time. And yet, this strategy is being implemented with the very help of content publishers, who are increasingly being held back by the search engine and losing visibility. How ? Under cover of visibility actions, SEO optimizations.

Since 2010, Google has gradually enriched its search result page, we are now discovering it:
– different types of results (additional links per result, Google Maps, images, videos)
– functionalities (calculator, translator, weather report, stock market shares, schedules and film screenings)
– content elements (enriched excerpts), which come from third party sites and are displayed directly on the result pages such as Wikipedia definitions, recipes, job offers…etc.

Today, there are about a hundred elements that allow Google to give information to the user without the user having to go further in his search in terms of navigation. And almost all sectors and types of content are concerned: tourism, catering, entertainment, transport, job search, podcast, etc. Since this year, thanks to “Shopping Actions”, the user can now even make a purchase directly, including payment!

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To do this, Google “feeds” itself from the content of the sites it indexes. But understanding and analyzing the content of a site is not easy for a machine. Google therefore offers publishers the opportunity to optimize their visibility through structured data, tagging to qualify certain content, or register for services such as the Google MyBusiness directory, Google News or Google Shopping, where publishers and users will go directly to create the necessary content.

If the need to qualify the content of a site seems to be a step in the right direction (a better understanding of the content by search engines gives more relevant and qualitative search results), and that for the moment, publishers making this optimization effort are rewarded with increased visibility and audience, the very exploitation of this content by Google presents a threat: that of turning websites into simple databases without any audience or identity of their own. The entire user experience is based on the results of the search engine (information search, consultation, booking, purchases, opinion filing…).

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This threat is all the more important for all site publishers whose business model is based on advertising, since if the audience becomes zero, so will advertising revenues.

One might think this fear is a little irrational, but the effects are already starting to be felt: in the USA, in mid-2019, 50% of search requests are made without any clicks on the results page, and this rate rises to almost 62% on mobile phones.

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Google does not only focus on content, but also on other aspects of web traffic: under the guise of improving the user experience, Google focuses on page loading speed and offers publishers tools to accelerate their site. The AMP format for example, a simplified html version allowing a quick display of a mobile page. This format leaves almost no freedom in terms of design and customization, and if the development is well done and hosted by the publisher, the AMP version page is actually stored on Google’s servers in order to be more quickly distributed on the user’s device.

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Google also offers a DNS (Domain Name Resolution Protocol) service, which is one of the most important protocols in the structure of the web. With these 2 elements alone, even when an Internet user clicks on a search result, the traffic remains on Google, the interfaces keep the design of the latter.

The notion of identity gradually disappears from people’s minds and everything becomes easily interchangeable, standardized.

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This reality is all the more verifiable in the growing universe of personal assistants (Alexa, Siri, Cortana, Google assistant) and speakers connected through voice search, where no “navigation” on site is a priori possible, and where the personal assistant can even act in your place.

Publishers are now faced with a difficult choice: applying Google’s recommendations in order to gain visibility but above all not to lose audience, knowing that these same recommendations tend to avoid sending more and more traffic to their site and to erase the brand’s visual identity.

We can always say to ourselves that whatever the medium, as long as Google brings business to companies… Yes, except on the day when the rules set out by Google have not been respected (or misunderstood), or simply as a result of a bug or mistake, an entire company can go down overnight, and this without any possible recourse.

Not everything is of course all white or all black. It is clear that all of Google’s innovations in this area are powerful and of great benefit to users and businesses alike. Nevertheless, let us keep a certain critical eye and remember that all these recommendations are not equal because they can cost more than they yield. It is important not to be completely dependent on Google and therefore make sure to keep other audience acquisition levers active such as netlinking, social networks, newsletters…etc.

Google should not have the ability to vacuum ALL your content and features so that the search engine can need you as much as you need it. And thus, prevent it from replacing your website which is the only real space you have control over.

Enhance your site and your brand image. Keep in mind that from now on, being in 1st position on Google will not necessarily be the best place to increase your audience.

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