Millward Brown’s Compete unit issued its 2016 State of Search report. Based on clickstream data, it appears to contradict earlier comScore data, which show a decline in overall desktop query volumes. By contrast, Compete says “traffic to search engines [is] up 12 percent since last year.”
According to the Compete report, search visits per per person are up “almost 50 percent since last year.” Users are more frequently visiting search engines, according to the firm.
In addition, Compete says that total time with search engines has grown by 24 percent since last year, “amounting to more than 111 billion minutes spent on search engines a month.” However, users are visiting fewer pages per session: the report says that pages per visit have declined eight percent since 2015.
Consistent with that latter finding, users collectively are spending less time per visit, which is off 17 percent since 2015. The inference here is that people want and expect answers quickly and are less willing to wade through multiple results.
The Compete report doesn’t include any mobile data and therefore provides an incomplete view of search behavior. As of last year, Google said that a larger percentage of search activity is happening on mobile devices.
I asked Millward Brown’s PR representative how the company reconciles its data with the comScore data (below), which clearly show an overall decline in the volume of search queries over time — presumably because of the aforementioned shift to mobile.
Millward Brown responded that the Compete data address the growth of search uniques and the number of searches per user, not the aggregate volume in the market. But if the number of searchers is up and the volume of search queries per user is also up, wouldn’t the overall number of searches overall be up as well?
There may be a more nuanced way to reconcile the Compete and comScore data. However, I’m inclined to believe comScore’s overall market view rather than the Compete data.
It’s quite possible that a percentage of the PC population is doing more searches. But the evidence is very strong that desktop search has plateaued — though the overall market is probably growing when mobile volumes are factored in.
Overall Desktop Search Volume in US 2009–2016 (MM)
Data source: comScore
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