Apparently Jeff Attwood thinks so. Actually that’s a bit unfair because it isn’t what he meant; but he does raise some excellent questions about our dependance on Google.
The stats he quotes (which show 350% more traffic via Google) are only for StackOverflow, and so it is entirely possible that the huge proportion is down to it’s target demographic (who are, I would guess, more likely to use Google).
My findings are somewhat different. I work as a forensic examiner and see a huge number of computers go past my desk each month. As part of my job I have to dig into the comouters search history – and from that I dont think Google has quite such a market share. For example a lot of people get directed to Live search by Windows itself and (more often) Live Messenger. In fact Live has a very high sticking power for non techie users – and it would be interesting to see the stats for a site that attracts a more non-pc-literate crowd.
I’m not saying Jeff has his stats wrong . Ultimately he is right that Google drives a huge amount of traffic share – more importantly their ratings filter down through the other sites that piggy back Google (take the BBC website!). Yahoo and Live just dont really have such features; leaving Google with a huge integration capital.
However I do agree with one of his final comments:
it does mean that if Google, for whatever reason, decided to remove you from its search results, your website no longer exists. At least not as a viable business, anyway.
This is a scary thought: due to it’s dominance we have to trust Google to rate us highly. And in targetting heavy SEO at Google it is easy as anything to alienate other search engines. Result: total wipeout. In fact it doesnt need you to be removed – for some businesses just one slip from the front page might be enough to kill traffic entirely.
Google still provides the best search results – they deserve their dominance. Or do they? I cant help thinking this search wiki business and other recent tweaks are affecting the results (actually I have to own up it was a friend that drew my attention to this first). I’ve seen lots of old and useless mailing list posts enroach on the main page for searches – even some that have no relevance. Sometimes it takes a few goes to get keyword searches just so (even for obvious terms) to return the data I need. Indeed all my Google searches recently seem to have taken longer to nail down and, usually, have required a visit to page 2! 6 months ago that would be fairly unheard of.
On one hand this is annoying because obviously they are fiddling and getting it wrong. On the other it’s disproving another of Jeff’s suggestions: that the lack of competition will leave Google no desire to innovate. Obviously they are *trying* but failing; at least for the minute.
That said he does also have a point (I know I am sitting on the fence here). Google are very obviously spreading their wings into other areas (and have been doing so for a while). They are still innovating but are losing sight, I feel, of their roots as a search engine.
The conclusion? I like Google – a lot. I’ve used their services for years and they, generally, do what I want. Yes the searches are going down hill but they still beat most other offerings. However, as someone commented on the Coding Horror post, if things slip much more I will look to move away sharpish. The trouble is, and I reckon this is Jeff’s thinking too, if Google slips (not enough to die but enough to make it a frustration to use their services) who do we turn to? Live and Yahoo still dont seem like good alternatives. Where do we turn? Scary thoughts?