There's an interesting article over at Buzzfeed "Where Did All The Search Traffic Go?" in which they suggest that traffic from Google to digital publishers dropped 30% over the past eight months. This is their key graphic:
They also make the point - and it's an important one, that while Google makes up the bulk of search traffic to publishers, traffic from all search engines has dropped by 20% in the same period. Another statistic that I saw recently said that less people are relying on search engines to find websites - down from 83% in 2004 to 61% in 2012.
Is this actually the case, or are there other factors in play here? Danny Sullivan over at SearchEngineLand thinks that there are. He's suggesting that Apple might have a hand in this one way or another through their Safari browser. Without going into the complexities "before September, if someone searched on mobile Safari at Google and went to a web site, they’d show up as if they were Google traffic. After that, they showed up as if they were a “direct visit.”" Now, it's very far from me to discount what Danny says, since he has forgotten more about search than I'll ever know, but I can't see this as being a huge contributory factor. Particularly since Buzz also makes the point that "traffic from all search engines has dropped by 20% in the same period."
I think that this downturn is perfectly logical and to be expected. Traditional search engines are becoming less important. If I want images I'll go to Pinterest or Flickr rather than Google or Bing. If I'm on Facebook I'll do a search there to find what I need and go straight off to it (which is exactly what the Buzzfeed graph is showing), if it's news, I'll get that directly from Twitter and jump straight to a site that's linked, if I need to see what is happening in the profession I'll get that data pulled up for me by one of my tablet based news curation tools, and if I want most of anything else, I'll search for it using an app if I'm out and about. To be honest, if there *wasn't* a drop in traffic I would be astonished.
This has obvious implications for the LIS world. If we've got fewer people using search engines to find what they need, we need to know what they ARE using, and should be using it as well. (Indeed, we should probably have been there already!) New tools to find information are - or should be - the tools of our trade so we if we use them and understand them, we can advise our members on how and when to use them. Moreover, if a lot of this traffic is now being driven by social media sites, isn't that also where we need to be? We should be exploiting Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest - if you're reading this then you're probably already doing exactly that, but I'm still seeing people who regard social media as a distraction at best. Hopefully this will help demonstrate that as we embraced internet search engines and made a move away from more traditional search, we need to do exactly the same thing again, and move away from just using the usual search engines and start exploring other methods of finding the data that we need.