Are we at Peak Google?
What is "peak Google," are we there, what does this mean for you, and what can you do about it? Let's define the term by comparing it to "Peak Oil" which Wikipedia calls "...the point in time when the maximum rate of extraction of petroleum is reached, after which the rate of production is expected to enter terminal decline."
We think that Google meets that same criteria, and we're not alone. Here's a piece from Quartz about how "Google's dominance in search is nearing its peak."; John Battelle, who wrote the you-must-read-it-before-you-work-here book "the Search" wrote about the phenomena; Strategery's bluntly-titled "Peak Google" posits that it's a function of the rise of native advertising."
My own take is that Google's search growth has flatlined to some degree, but that it's not at the expense of something else - I think they're unquestionably the dominant player in search, and will be for years to come.. But think about it - do you use Google as much as you used to? Or do you search for stereo components on Amazon? Find the weather via search, or use your iPhone? The examples go on and on.
What Does This Mean For You? For 10 years, our (mostly .edu-based) clients have counted on sustained growth in search queries from Google - they/we could forecast 10% yearly growth in search volume. So what happened? First - the broadband explosion of 2005-2008, where most of the country quickly came online, is over - so that growth ended. Second - Google got better at returning relevant results - so if used to visit four (or whatever) websites to find what you were looking for, you might visit one now. So the other three lose out. Third - Mobile mobile mobile. The mobile screen shows what, four results? So if you're not in the top position, you're toast. Fourth - People are on Facebook or Twitter to Fourquare or whatever. Bluntly, this means that you can expect less out of Google - or that you'll have to do more to get the same results you're used to.
What Can You Do About It? That question demands a long and complicated answer. Three brief ideas: Rethink what data is truly "required" on your forms. People simply are not on their desktop computers like they were - and they don't want to fill out a 10-step form with their thumbs. Try twitter cards. A basket of our more adventurous clients are getting leads there for a great cost - with the caveat that these leads do not fit the since-2005-business-rules. Try a mobile-only campaign where you give leads no other option but to call you - don't let them fill out a form, just make them call you, One .edu client is seeing an 11% call-to-enrollee ratio on inbound calls from paid search marketing. Of course, we're happy to help you implement any of these strategies :)