Google: superfluous Web middleman, or primary Internet portal

Will Google become the Internet's "start page"?

In “Information Central,” Nicholas Carr posits that Wikipedia may turn Google into little more than a superfluous “middleman”:

could it be that Wikipedia will end up being Google's most formidable competitor? After all, if Google simply points you to Wikipedia, why bother with the middleman?

Carr suggests such a scenario after discussing an assortment of statistics and theories put forth by Dave Winer and SEO Blackhat:

Combine the growing dominance of web searches over the way people find information with the growing dominance of Wikipedia over search results, and you do seem to have the makings for an unprecedented dominance of a single information source.

Carr’s analysis, however, does not take into account the propensity for Web users to rely on search engines for navigating their way to common Web sites, such as Wikipedia.

Web surfers often use search engines to navigate their way to common Web sites rather than typing the Web site’s URL directly into the address bar.

According to a Nielsen/NetRatings MegaView Search report earlier this year:

Web users’ top search terms were popular, well-known Web site names, such as 'ebay' and 'google'…

43% of online searchers use the search box much like an address bar.

Leading the top 10 most popular search terms for November 2005 was “eBay” with 13.9 million requests…

What all ten search terms had in common was that they were the names of popular Web sites rather than topics. The first topical search term, 'weather,' ranked No. 23.

Ken Cassar, chief analyst, Nielsen/Netratings, said:

There are two types of online searchers that type a Web site’s URL into a search engine rather than into the browser’s address bar: Those inexperienced enough not to appreciate the difference between the two, and those that are so experienced they have become habituated to using the search engine as their portal to the Internet.

Whether this behavior is driven by ignorance or savvy, the end result is the same: The search engine is the focal point of the online experience for Internet users across the spectrum.

As Google is currently the dominant search engine, it may be used as the Web’s primary portal.

The central Google-Wikipedia risk would therefore be Wikipedia’s risk of losing direct navigation traffic to Google.

Traditional marketers, in fact, are capitalizing on Internet users’ propensity for using Google.com as their “start page.“

Earlier this year, General Motors ran a TV ad with the following call to action:

Google Pontiac

Rather than ask consumers to visit pontiac.com, GM asked consumers to "discover" Pontiac via Google.com.

GM sales and marketing chief, Mark LaNeve, said:

We’re touting Google, frankly, because it stands for credibility and consumer empowerment, and we like the association.

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