Improvements to Apple Search Punish Google

Last week Apple released iOS 9, the latest iteration of their mobile operating system. This has a number of significant improvements including big enhancements to the inbuilt iOS search engine, Spotlight.

Apple’s progressive improvements to its search capabilities are aimed at reducing iPhone and iPad owners’ need to use Google for searches. This represents a real threat to Google, given the huge number of iPhones and iPads & the fact that globally there is now more Internet access from mobile devices than desktop computers. Any reduction in Google searches directly impacts Google’s bottom line because of the massive revenues it earns from search advertising.

In iOS 9 Spotlight search now returns a much richer array of search results which includes cards for things like weather and sports scores (a bit like Google Now cards); existing apps on your iPhone/iPad; News; Suggested website(s); Email; Wikipedia; Web Videos (YouTube & Vimeo); related apps in the Apple App Store; and finally Bing results. All in all, pretty impressive.

See the sequence of scrolled screen shots below for a search in Spotlight for “rugby world cup”.






The mix of results of course varies depending on the search made and what apps you have on your device.

Whilst Google is excluded from Spotlight results, that’s strangely still not yet the case with a search done in Apple’s Safari browser on iPhones & iPads. Instead Apple suggests a website and then presents Google Search options, rather than Bing. Odds on this will eventually change and Google Search will only be accessible if users install the Google Search app.

Payback from Steve Jobs for Google stepping on Apple’s mobile phone turf with Android.


Why should you care?

From reading the above it looks like these changes by Apple are yet another problem for Google to deal with on top of the surge in ad blocking apps which also deprives them of ad revenues.

You probably don’t care how iPhone and iPad users find your website – just as long as they do. But, as you can see from the screenshots above, Apple now relegates organic search results below everything else, meaning that even sites which rank high in organic results now have far lower visibility in Spotlight. Furthermore, if you monitise your website using Google AdSense (which is where you allow Google to show ads on your website and share the ad revenue) then reductions in Google traffic to your site will hurt you too. It will be interesting to see how Google reponds.

That said If, you have an iPhone or iPad and haven’t yet upgraded to iOS 9, it’s worth doing so.

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About the Author Mark Sceats

Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).

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