This is not an illusion

As early as 2009, data from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) showed that the utilization rate of search services used by users for news, information, shopping and other information has declined, and the user loyalty of Baidu and Google has also decreased by 1.2% and respectively. 2.7%.

At that time, CNNIC analyzed that some professional websites such as shopping and business travel had increasingly improved functions and high information accuracy, which diverted some users.

Looking back now, this is probably the beginning of the decline of the search business.

The legacy of the times

In 2009, when classic search engines began to decline, it was precisely the beginning of the rise of smartphones.

Technological innovation will always bring a new ecology to match. Two information portals created by smartphones: one is a voice assistant, and the other is an application. They have cut away the original search engine cake.

Let me talk about the voice assistant first. They are often used to answer questions. Essentially, this is also a search that changes the medium, from inputting text to inputting sound, and from outputting a list of results to broadcasting a single piece of content.

In the past, people relied on Baidu and Google to search for daily information such as weather and news. Now this has become a common job for voice assistants. For these only one result problems, using voice assistants is much more convenient than search engines.

In the 2016 "Internet Trends" report, Internet Queen Mary Mickel predicted that voice is the most effective input form, and pointed out that between 2013 and 2015, the proportion of US smartphone users using voice assistants rose from 30% to 65% . In addition, Google’s voice search volume in 2016 increased 2008 times compared to 35.

The smart speaker born in the concept of voice assistant is also challenging the authority of search engines.

Research institution Voicebot.ai mentioned in a study released in 2018 that 79.1% of users have the habit of using smart speakers every month, including 45.5% of users who are already in daily use. [3] Even Li Yanhong also publicly admitted in 2019: Smart homes represented by smart speakers can be said to be a new entrance to search in the AI ​​era.

Picture source丨voicebot.ai

Although the voice assistant can carry a lot of the work of search engines, it is difficult to carry the advertising space of the search engine's business model? ranking of bidding? Drain traffic for other company services? It's hard.

Currently, some smart speakers have added voice broadcast advertisements. However, compared with the advertising space of traditional search engines, voice advertising also has obvious problems: it only broadcasts the advertisement when it perceives the user to be around, which is suspected of infringing on the user's privacy; the advertisement that is broadcast loudly is difficult to skip, and the advertisement that is too strong is also Infringing on the user’s personal space.

In addition to voice search, the application ecology is also the enemy of search engines and this is true on a global scale.

Google mentioned in the 2019 annual report that in addition to e-commerce and social products, Google also faces competition from vertical product search and video platforms, such as Kayak (travel query), LinkedIn (job query), WebMD (health query) , Hulu (video platform) and TikTok (TikTok overseas version).
These up-and-coming stars not only took away users, but also directly squeezed the monetization space of traditional search engines. EMarketer data shows that the U.S. search advertising market will grow by nearly 2019% in 18, but Google’s share of it is shrinking, from 2019% in 73.1 to 2021% in 70.5.

In China on the other side of the globe, the intrusion of vertical apps into the classic search engine market is even more violent. Among them, Baidu, which did not pay enough attention to mobile Internet at the beginning, was the hardest hit area.

With the rapid development of China's mobile Internet and the world's leading in the fields of local life, mobile payment, etc., vertical apps with a sufficiently large user base have undergone a light-to-heavy transformation and become a unique super app in China. According to QuestMobile's half-year report in 2018, the core traffic of Chinese mobile Internet users is firmly occupied by several super portals such as WeChat and Taobao.

These super apps that occupy the minds of mobile phone users have greatly squeezed the living space of Baidu search. Market education has been completed, and consumers are already aware of what kind of information they should use.

CNNIC’s “Research Report on the Utilization of Search Engines by Chinese Netizens in 2019” shows that the utilization rate of search engines is already less than 40% in terms of finding catering and entertainment services. Undoubtedly, super apps such as Meituan Dianping took away the original search Engine work.

In terms of shopping, downloading software and entertainment, nearly half of users do not need search engines; what’s more serious is that even for professional knowledge, work and study, users have begun to abandon search engines in these areas, knowledge communities, paid courses, etc. The role of vertical apps cannot be ignored.

Picture source丨CNNIC

The advantage of classic search engines has always lie in the all-encompassing search results, but when entering the mobile Internet era, App has replaced websites, and when the key to product operation changes from traffic to retention, the traffic brought by search engines is far less than the users brought by closed content The stickiness is heart-warming, and the Super App has begun to build its own content moat, hoping to circle users within the App with exclusive content.

This is also reflected in daily life: more and more people are starting to search for news on Weibo and WeChat, search for scenic spots and restaurant guides on Ctrip and Meituan, search for products on Taobao and Xiaohongshu, and even Baidu spends 14 years and collections. Baidu Encyclopedia, which has a complete national productivity, was also robbed of jobs by Zhihu.

Under the simultaneous squeeze of the application and the voice assistant, the traditional search box showed signs of decline. At the same time, browsers, which are the main entrance of classic search engines, are gradually being abandoned by users. Statistics from Aurora Big Data show that from the second half of 2018 to the first half of 2019, browsers accounted for the average daily use of apps by Chinese mobile netizens, dropping from 2018% in Q3 4.1 to 3.4%.

Under the multiple blows, the life of classic search vendors is obviously not easy. Google’s financial report shows that for the full year of 2019, Google’s advertising revenue growth rate has ushered in the first decrease in nearly five years. For Google, this is obviously a dangerous signal. Baidu's online marketing service revenue also saw its first decline in nearly a decade in its 2019 financial report.

Globally, WeChat, with daily activity exceeding 12 billion, Douyin with 4 million, and Taobao with 5 million, have blocked search engine crawling. If then overseas Twitter with 1.26 million daily activities, Amazon with 4 million daily activities and Facebook with 16 billion daily activities also shut themselves down, how much content can be found on the classic search engines? At that time, what could be the market left for classic search?

Redemption and transformation

Facing the content enclosure of super apps, a campaign to save the nation from the extinction of classic search engines has begun.

The first is to drain if you can't defeat the dragon, then join it.

At the I/O conference in May 2016, Google Home, a smart home device equipped with Google Assistant voice assistant, was released, referring to Amazon Echo. At the end of 5, the market share was almost equal to Amazon.

Coincidentally, in 2018, Baidu released the smart speaker Xiaodu Home. With its deep cultivation in the field of AI + search, it surpassed Ali in just one year, ranking first in the domestic market share, and now it has three parts with Xiaomi’s Xiaoai classmate and Ali’s Tmall Elf. .

Competitive landscape of smart speakers of various brands | Source: CITIC Securities

Smart speakers are just one of the many Nirvana plans of classic search engines that have recently come to the fore. Search engines are looking for the entrance that every user needs to obtain information. Baidu has a browser, Google has Android and Chrome, and Sogou uses input methods. These are all ways the search business seeks to break the game, but this is far from enough.

As content porters, if search giants cannot get rid of their dependence on external product matrix and information flow, the future of search will remain stagnant.

Li Yanhong mentioned in an internal speech in February 2017: How to use Baidu's platform to return content and make it easy for our users to access it, and fulfill our mission of letting people get the most convenient and equal access to information and find what they want. However, what kind of content can compete with the increasingly integrated and closed super apps?

Classic search engine vendors once again joined the enemy and turned themselves into super apps

In September 2016 and July 9, Baijiahao and Baidu Smart Mini Program were launched one after another. The former is against the self-media platforms that have emerged from the WeChat public platform; the latter is against the ascending WeChat applet.

Different from the slogan of WeChat decentralization, Baidu has learned more about the centralization strategy of super apps in order to take advantage of the Baidu alliance. On the other hand, Baijiahao is also actively moving closer to short videos. It is believed that by June 2020, Baijiahao’s video content output has reached 6 times that of graphic content.

On the other hand, Baidu is also trying to rescue the search box with the content nurtured by Baijiahao. As for the result, it has no effect other than bringing more information pollution and further diverting the advertising revenue of the original webmasters.

On the other side of the earth, Google is also exploring its own content ecology with Google Map as the core: In May 2018, Google Map updated the Explore tab, began to use personalized algorithms to recommend local content, and launched a preference match (You Match) function infers user habits.

Soon, Google Maps integrated hotel reservations, real-time events, train delay notifications, flight inquiries and other functions; Uber, shared scooter Lime, delivery platform DoorDash, and dozens of food ordering platforms have also entered.

In addition to the super App Google Map, Google is also concerned about content production. Not long ago, Google launched a news emergency funding fund program to provide emergency funding to thousands of small and medium-sized local news media around the world.

This investment is not as simple as funding, obviously there are more far-reaching plans behind it. The news editorial office that has received the money said that it plans to use Google’s funding to migrate its business to a new online platform and invest in audio, video, and data production tools to cover more audiences. As for which platform and whose tools , Speaks for itself.

Search is not dead

Xiaodu got into smart speakers; Google Map is on its way to becoming the next super App. A generation of search giants has a bright future, although the familiar classic search engines are becoming less and less popular.

Although the general trend has been set, there are still slight waves in the search field in the past two years: in 2019, Toutiao launched Toutiao Search, which is known as a new generation of search engine; in 2020, Tencent's acquisition of Sogou undoubtedly brought classic search engines back briefly. Public view. However, whether it is information flow + search or bidding marketing, in the deep courtyard of the content ecology, that small box does not seem to contain too much new ideas.

In January 2019, Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, aroused heated discussion on an article entitled "The Search Engine Baidu Is Dead". This is an ecological search that is increasingly conservative and fighting against each other. Does it mean the closure and decline of the interconnected spirit of the classic search engine era? What about this kind of ecological search in the future?

The only thing you can be sure is that search itself will not die. In the human world far from equilibrium, the orderly information filtered through the classification of knowledge constitutes an eternal need. Before the ecological search, it was the search box; before the search box, it was the portal and the yellow pages; before that, in the age before the Internet was born, it was the knowledge classification system of the library era, Linnaeus' biological classification system, and Yari Genus + species difference

Where there are people, search is there.