US Desktop Search Volume Declines

// // September 12th 2012 // SEO

The latest comScore search engine rankings were released today. I’m sure many will focus on the small movements in market share between Google, Bing and Yahoo. Yet, there is big (really big) news buried in this release.

US Desktop Search Volume

I’ve been tracking this metric for more than seven years.

Monthly US Desktop Search Volume

August 2012 was the first time we’ve seen US desktop search volume decline year-over-year. Specifically, volume in August 2011 was 17,122 versus 17,046 in August 2012.

This is a big turning point for search.

Search Trends Matter

This doesn’t mean that search is dead, it’s simply moved from desktops to phones and tablets. Unfortunately, I don’t have a reliable source of search volume data for mobile search. The industry desperately needs one.

What it does mean is that mobile is not something you should think about, it’s something you must think about.

Nearly a year ago I wrote about these search trends so I won’t repeat those here (but go and read it … now). However, I think they did make a lot of SEOs look better than they were, helped Google rise to prominence and will make Facebook’s post IPO prospects far less rosy.

As an industry we need to start thinking about how search is going to evolve and the different type of context and intent implied by phones and tablets.

Search, it’s never boring.

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Comments About US Desktop Search Volume Declines

// 18 comments so far.

  1. Sterling Simpson // September 12th 2012

    Great catch in the comScore stats. Over the last year I have noticed that many of my clients are seeing more and more traffic from mobile devices and, in some cases, mobile visitors are starting to convert at higher rates than desktop visitors.

  2. AJ Kohn // September 12th 2012

    Thanks Sterling. And yes, mobile is a rising part of the traffic profile and can covert at the same or better rates. In addition, I believe phones and tablets are disrupting the traditional eCommerce traffic patterns which could influence email marketing tactics as well.

  3. Ben Heath // September 12th 2012

    All the more reason to focus on responsive web development. Then it doesn’t matter what people are looking at your site on, it will look great. It will help future proof a site as it moves to mobile and different screen resolutions. I agree to AJ that there needs to be a reliable source for mobile search volume.

  4. Micah Fisher-Kirshner // September 12th 2012

    Not that I disagree about mobile be important to think about, but to be fair, a decline in desktop search does not mean an cannibalizing increase to mobile search. It may just mean a cannibalizing shift to tablet search instead.

    “That means it’s mobile you should think about, and it’s tablets you must think about.”

    With the same caveats I noted above applying to my own statement without reliable mobile/tablet search volume data.

  5. AJ Kohn // September 12th 2012

    True Micah. I got lazy and lumped phones and tablets into mobile. It’s essentially the dawn of multi-screen search. People are searching from different screens based on these new devices, Internet speeds and wi-fi ubiquity.

  6. Baptiste // September 13th 2012

    You will have to check next months stats, Summer is a great moment for holidays, so people are not in front in there desktop computer.

    Nonetheless, this is an important milestone, 2013 should *really* be the year of the mobile search !

  7. AJ Kohn // September 13th 2012


    Thanks for your comment. It’s true that summer is a month for vacations and travel but, remember, I’m comparing August 2012 to August 2011. So it’s apples to apples. Vacation time to vacation time.

  8. Jason Nelson // September 13th 2012

    Good insight here AJ. I think this emphasizes the need for graphics, images, video, load speed, and conditional programming to optimize for mobile devices.

  9. AJ Kohn // September 13th 2012

    Thanks Jason. And I agree that it leads up to responsive design and to think about the type of context users have when using phones or tablets. Is shorter content more viable based on time compression and screen size? That’s really just the tip of the iceberg too.

  10. Rick // September 14th 2012

    Hello AJ, I found you from an article on Nice work, I’ll be back, on my phone next time just to help you feel better;)

  11. Lewis LaLanne // September 17th 2012

    I love the last sentence of this post . . . “Search, it’s never boring.”

    Search is the wrong game for someone who can’t embrace change. The people who whine about an ever evolving, shape-shifting platform like the web are going to lose BIG TIME . . . if they haven’t already and are crying from the stands about being busted out of the game.

    But for those of us who like riding on the cutting edge or get crushed and get back up again swinging, this ride feels like home.

  12. AJ Kohn // September 17th 2012

    Exactly Lewis! I’m surprised by how many in the search community seem resistant to change when it’s really part of the industry’s DNA.

  13. Christopher West // September 18th 2012

    Not surprising – mobile phones are more common, laptops are smaller, tablets are almost everywhere… (even at my kids Kidnergarten!)

  14. David Chevalier // September 23rd 2012

    While sites should be optimized for mobile, I think the size of the screen limits the amount of searching that will be done on smart phones.

    Therefore, as Micah Fisher-Kirshner mentioned, tablets seem particularly important to watch. Do you think there is an optimal screen size where searches can happen on a mobile device comfortably enough to cannibalize most of remaining desktop search?

  15. Ellie Kesselman // October 19th 2012

    I just found my way here from Owen’s post about search, where you left a comment.

    Business Insider should consider using your work (to be charitable). What you posted here compares rather favorably with Owen’s entry of about a week ago.

    I find it difficult to believe that search on smartphones is at the point where it is making serious incursions into search on laptop or desktop. Regarding other mobile devices, with larger screens, well… there is much more potential there! I think there will always be a role for search, find it unlikely that general search will be replaced in total, or nearly so, by specialized apps. Not in the near term…

  16. AJ Kohn // October 24th 2012


    Thanks for the kind words. I was in a grumpy mood that day and threw a bit of a hissy fit. I’m glad others are tracking the changes in search behavior.

    I’m actually not surprised that smartphone search has made inroads on desktop search. One of the issues here is what you define as search. There is a lot of non-traditional search (voice, map etc.) that is being done on smartphones that would reduce the volume on desktops.

    But you’re right, the larger screen formats of tablets are clearly where we’ll see more incursion. The question is whether those searches are materially different from desktop. Phones are certainly different, but tablets may be more similar to desktop than to phone.

  17. Micah // October 24th 2012

    Made me wonder how much of the tablet (read: iPad) visits are replacing Mac desktop visits vs. PC desktop visits.

  18. Bob Green // December 28th 2012

    Some eye opening stats here. I’m already using my mobile devices more hours per day than my notebook. I still do my research work and web dev on the notebook but, most of my reading and local search is on mobile.

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