Common sense tells us that many consumers search for music on iTunes—they don’t just buy it there—but that search business is effectively invisible to regulators. The same goes for books and retail goods on Amazon. Online retailers collect, collate and present troves of information about their products, and users eagerly consume, and search for, it directly.
These are undeniably a marketer’s most sought-after searches: those initiated by likely customers. Informational queries, on the other hand, which are Google’s traditional bread and butter, aren’t particularly valuable to advertisers. In fact, only about 30% of Google’s searches even trigger any advertising.
This dynamic has enabled Amazon to begin positioning itself as an important player in advertising, building an ad network called Amazon Sponsored Links. The retailer figures it has so much data on users that it will be able to target ads much better than Google, which now identifies Amazon as its primary competitor.
Mobile and social media have transformed search, too. Today we spend more time staring at our phones than even our TVs, and many users interact not through websites in their browsers, but through apps. Mobile has conditioned us to seek instant gratification—immediate, accessible and localized search results. This revolution has migrated to the computer, which has itself become “app-ified.” Now there are desktop apps and browser extensions that take users directly to Google competitors such as Kayak, eBay and Amazon, or that pull and present information from these sites.