Visibility on Google isn’t enough by itself anymore

Search is growing beyond the confines of a single search engine. Brands can’t rely on Google alone for visibility as their target audiences’ time, attention and conversions are split across a growing number of platforms.

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For two decades, the online search-to-purchase existed almost entirely within Google, but this is no longer the case. Adults spend more time using YouTube and TikTok than other apps while the latter replaces Google as the main search tool for younger users. Google is still a key player, but it’s not the only battleground for consumer attention – and marketers need to respond in 2024.

Search & SEO are bigger than Google

The days of online search and SEO being synonymous with Google are coming to an end. Many marketers will associate this with generative AI, but – while this is a factor – this transition started long before ChatGPT and generative AI hit the headlines.

Search is finally growing beyond Google and it’s doing so because users are driving a more expansive online experience.  Since 2018, more product searches start with Amazon than Google – a trend that has continued ever since. In fact, Google’s share of product searches has decreased during this time, despite the search engine investing heavily in product search.

Where adults start their search when shopping online


Outside product searches, “almost 40%” of Gen Z use TikTok and Instagram to find places for lunch over Google Maps or Searchaccording to Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan. Meanwhile, a recent survey finds that 51% of Gen Z women use TikTok as a search engine more than Google, preferring the video format of results and personalised relevance.

While the headlines will tell you TikTok is replacing Google, it’s more accurate to say TikTok is replacing Google for some searches, for some users – as explained in this excellent write-up by Rebecca Sentance for Econsultancy.

More specifically, traditional search is no longer the single point of access for online journeys. Users are turning to a variety of platforms (Google, YouTube, TikTok, Amazon, Quora, etc.) for different purposes and brands need to capture their interest in the right place, at the right time.

Attention is the key commodity in SEO now

In a search environment where 90% of content isn’t seen by anyone organically and audiences are bombarded with ads everywhere, visibility is no longer enough. Impressions are great, but what do they achieve if users scroll right past or forget your message – along with a dozen others – within a couple of seconds?

Attention is the new commodity of SEO and it requires us to rethink campaigns, measurement and success. Impressions are still important, but – without engagement – they don’t achieve what they once did in today’s attention economy. After all, you can’t engage without a presence, but a presence without engagement counts for very little.

You only have to look at the latest fleet of SEO tools like Google Analytics 4 to see the new emphasis on engagement in action. It introduces a new suite of engagement metrics and reporting features to fill the gap between impressions, clicks and other actions.

Google analytics showing the emphasis Google is putting on engagement with a new suite of metrics

How can SEOs win attention as search expands?

As search expands beyond Google, brands can’t realistically invest in being visible everywhere, all of the time. With search audiences spreading across a growing variety of platforms, marketers need to build visibility in the right places, at the right times – and know how to capture their audience’s attention.

You might break down the strategic planning stage into the following five stages:

  1. Know where your audience is active: Pinpoint the platforms your search audiences use as they move through consumer journeys (Google, TikTok, YouTube Amazon, Pinterest, etc.).
  2. Know why your audience uses each platform: Identify the intent of your audiences as they use each platform and how this changes through the buying cycle – can you turn attention on YouTube, Quora, etc. into business opportunities?
  3. Pinpoint the interactions that matter: Your audience might be present on a platform but are they interacting with it in commercially viable ways?
  4. Identify what your audience is interacting with: Determine what kind of content your audiences are interacting with in valuable ways and whether you can create something similar or better.
  5. Map out the consumer journey: Visualise the journey of your search audiences – the platforms they use, their intents, interactions, etc. and relevant changes as they progress through the buying cycle – and the key places/moments you need to win their attention.

Let’s say you identify a journey where users find inspiration on TikTok and, then, move over to YouTube to watch a handful of videos featuring the same product. Next, they might watch a series of comparison videos, looking at alternative options, before opening up Amazon to check some prices and customer reviews.

Even if some of this same audience later turns to Google, you’ve unlocked a valuable discovery and search journey that you’ll miss out on by only being visible on Google.

Meanwhile, a growing percentage of this audience won’t use traditional search – they’ll choose to buy from Amazon or get on with their day. And, for other journeys, you could replace Amazon with a range of other transactional platforms: Uber, Etsy, the App Store, Deliveroo, Airbnb, Steam and many more.

Without being present in the right places and capturing attention at the key moments, you miss out on these opportunities.

Search is growing – is your SEO strategy keeping up?

As search grows beyond Google, audiences are present across a wider variety of platforms at different stages of the consumer journey. Brands can’t rely on Google Search alone to cover the more complex buying cycles of today. Of course, the world’s biggest search engine still plays a key role, but it’s a large piece of a much bigger puzzle now.

This raises two big challenges for brands:. The first is reaching audiences throughout the search journey – on the platforms that influence their buying decisions, at the moments they’re most responsive to your message. The second challenge is not simply being visible, but winning audiences’ attention by cutting through the noise of other brand messages.

If your SEO strategy isn’t keeping up with the expansion of search, our team can help. Call us on 023 9283 0281 or send us your details to speak to our search marketing team. And you can always check out our SEO services in the meantime.

Dave Colgate profile picture
Dave Colgate

Dave is head of SEO at Vertical Leap. He joined in 2010 as an SEO specialist and prior to that worked with international companies delivering successful search marketing campaigns. Dave works with many of our largest customers spanning many household names and global brands such as P&O Cruises and Harvester. Outside of work, Dave previously spent many years providing charity work as a Sergeant under the Royal Air Force Reserves in the Air Cadets sharing his passion for aviation with young minds. He can often be found in the skies above the south coast enjoying his private pilot licence.

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