Is Google Becoming a Portal?

Google has long held that it is not a portal. Concerns of publishers wary of giving away their content to Google for free have always been met with the response that Google is simply making it easier for people to find the publisher’s content.

So what happens if Google stops sending searchers to other publishers’ sites? What if Google starts sending people to its own content? Apparently they already have.

According to new data shared at an Orion Panel on universal search at SES New York yesterday by James Lamberti, senior VP of search and media at comScore, Google is showing more universal results than people might think, and it’s starting to have an effect on searchers’ click patterns, on both organic results and ads.

Lamberti said that in just one week in January, out of 1.2 billion search queries in the U.S., there were 220 million universal search results. That means 17 percent of all searches on Google showed at least one result with video, news, images, maps, weather, or stocks. Looking at it from the individual searchers angle, the data shows that of the 87 million people who searched during that same week in January, 57 percent of them saw some type of universal search result. Of those, 38 percent saw a video result, 34 percent saw news, 19 percent saw images, and 15 percent saw multiple types of results.

Now, smart search marketers have been paying attention to images, video, news and other types of content for years now. This might just make more people realize how important that has become. That’s not the big news here.

What’s more important than that is the fact that, based on that one week’s data, fewer ads seem to be showing up, and searchers are clicking on those ads less.

What’s significant is that many searchers are getting their answer right on the SERP, and not clicking through to a final destination page. That behavior is most evident on searches that return maps, stock quotes, or weather, but it’s also happening quite often for video and images.

And when Google is sending people to other sites, more and more often, they’re sending them to Google-owned sites like YouTube, Google News, and Google Finance. Google sent nearly 400 million search referrals to their own media properties over six months. That includes 148 million referrals to YouTube and 173 million to Google Images, the comScore data show.

There are several implications to this data, once it’s been tested, retested and fully examined. If this data is supported by more studies, it could spell trouble for site owners, advertisers, and even Google itself. As James said during the Orion Panel at SES New York Tuesday afternoon, “If the search engine results pages begin to operate as a destination, a lot of things change for those of us in this room.”

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