We’ve passed a milestone in Google’s evolution from search engine to walled-garden. In June of 2019, for the first time, a majority of all browser-based searches on Google.com resulted in zero-clicks.
Throughout this post, I’ll be using numbers from the clickstream data company, Jumpshot. They are, in my opinion, the best, most reliable source of information on what happens inside web browsers because of how they gather, process, and scale their estimates. That’s why SparkToro, and Moz (my previous company) are both customers of Jumpshot. Given all the nice things I say about them, it might sound like they’re paying me, but the opposite is true; we’re paying them. You can find more on their methodology in the endnote on this post.
Let’s go back, for a moment, to July 23rd, 2019. After a United States Congressional panel asked Adam Cohen, Google’s representative, direct questions about Google’s activities (video link) and found his responses… lacking… the Chairman of the committee, David Cicilline (of Rhode Island), sent this extraordinarily clear request (full PDF here):
I love the clarity of this format. The Congressman makes it known that while Google is welcome to attach more information, they must check a yes/no box. Let’s see how Google responds…
Sigh… Maybe I need to stop being disappointed in Google and just start expecting them to lie, mislead, and refuse direct questions. I know a lot of wonderful people who work at Google, and I know at least a handful of them who are less than thrilled by how their peers represented the company here.
But, since Google won’t give clear answers, I’ll let Jumpshot’s data do it for them. Below is a visual showing where searches happened on mobile and desktop browsers in April, May, and June of 2019 (Q2):
June (as shown at the top of this post) is when zero-click searches in browsers passed 50%, but the pie chart above shows that even before that, Google was sending a huge portion of search clicks to their own properties (~6% of queries and ~12% of clicks). Those properties include YouTube, Maps, Android, Google’s blog, subdomains of Google.com, and a dozen or so others (full list here).
Maybe Google’s websites are ranking exclusively because they’re the best result, but if Congress is asking questions about whether a monopoly is potentially abusing its market dominance in one field to unfairly compete in another, I’ve got something else they’ll want to see. It’s a chart of where searches happened on major web properties in Q2, and as you can see, there’s no competition.
Google is almost certainly even more dominant than the chart above suggests. That’s because mobile apps, which Jumpshot doesn’t currently measure, aren’t included — this is just browser-based search data. The Google Maps App, Google Search App, and YouTube are installed on almost every mobile device in the US, and likely have so much usage that, if their search statistics were included, Google’s true market share would be 97%+.
That makes them a clear monopoly in search. And a lot of folks think it’s somewhere between odd and suspicious how well Google’s features and properties have done over time.
Next, let’s look at how these clickthrough rates have changed over time.
We can see a consistent pattern: organic shrinks while zero-click searches and paid CTR rise. But the devil’s in the details and, in this case, mostly the mobile details, where Google’s gotten more aggressive with how ads and instant answer-type features appear.
Above is the distribution of search clicks across the millions of mobile devices in Jumpshot’s panel. Below is that same distribution for millions of desktop devices.
On desktop, things haven’t changed all that much in the last three years. Organic is down a few percent, paid and zero-click are up a bit, but June of 2019 isn’t far off January of 2016.
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