As consumers, we’ve taken websites for granted. From the time the Internet was established, websites were the tangible anchor points we needed in order to be able to navigate it effectively. Google, which promised the ability to better navigate these websites, was a website in itself, and everything we did online could be contextualized with some site-like web structure.
Today, websites aren’t the only way we experience online interactions or retrieve information. Individual apps, or programs, can function independently and retrieve information online only as needed; for example, your Twitter app doesn’t function as a website, instead relying only on retrieved information to serve its own purposes.
Still, practically every company in the country has its own website, and we continue to rely on them as a staple of our online experience. It seems strange to think that one day, websites will become obsolete, but that day may come sooner than you think—and Google’s the one pushing for it to happen.
Take a look at the Google Knowledge Graph, a complex system of processes that extract meaningful information from the web and consolidate it to answer common user queries. This information appears prominently on the right-hand side of the SERPs or above typical search results, drawing attention away from the traditional website links. For example, if you perform a search for a recent movie, you might see a list of information on that movie (including the director, the release year, the runtime, and starring actors) listed above any websites related to that movie, forgoing the need to actually click on any of them.
Theoretically, this function is designed to improve online user experience. Users who want faster answers completely save a step—they no longer have to look through websites to find the answers they need. The side effect, of course, is that if the Knowledge Graph becomes sophisticated enough to offer answers up for any possible query, there will no longer be a need for websites. Users can rely on Google’s vast knowledge vault to answer all their questions.
It’s also worth considering that Google doesn’t exclusively rely on websites to rank websites; for example, imagine a taco bar that’s trying to rank for taco-related queries. It’s important that its onsite content allows Google to interpret it as a taco bar, but that’s neither difficult nor especially complicated. With today’s search algorithm, it’s more important to ensure that the taco bar’s information is available, accurate, and consistent on third-party sources. Google relies on a number of moving parts, not just websites, to derive information for given businesses and brands, meaning one day, your website might not be necessary.
Google Shopping is furthering this trend even more. For a fee, online retailers can list their products with Google Shopping, a carousel of advertised products pertaining to a given search query. If clicked, Google can take care of the checkout process on its own and then forward the order summary to the business directly. Even e-Commerce platforms may become obsolete.
Google is also on the prowl for new apps that can enhance online user experience in any way, partnering with them for a mutual benefit. For example, recently, Google introduced functionality from both Uber and OpenTable in its Google Maps app. If planning a route to a destination, users can use Uber to estimate a fare, or use OpenTable to book a restaurant reservation within the app. Even in Google’s core search, embedded app functionality is starting to become the norm; Google recently solidified a deal to make live tweets available within SERPs.
There’s an app for almost any function you need, and with so many of those apps joining together, the need for websites is reduced. There’s no need to go to uber.com, or opentable.com, or twitter.com, when you can use those individual apps or a secondary app that relies on them.
Google’s favoritism toward apps doesn’t end with those limited integrations. In fact, the search engine is actually indexing apps the same way it indexes websites today. App recommendations are starting to become more popular for mobile searches, and it might not be long before a list of available apps starts to replace the old-style list of available websites.
Under this model, apps would replace the need for websites and Google would fill in the holes with indexed information in its Knowledge Graph. Search engine optimization (SEO) would theoretically die at that point, though online visibility optimization would simply evolve into a new form. A strong social media presence would still be important, as would an accurate presence in other third-party local apps. Some businesses would be able to create their own apps for more visibility and brand presence, though not every business would require this. Instead, visibility strategy would most often stem from figuring out where most people get their information and getting your information listed there.
There aren’t many short-term measures you can take today to prepare for this eventuality. It pays to be listed on third-party apps, especially local directories like Yelp, but hopefully you’re already using that strategy. If your business can produce a useful app, that’s another valuable step to take. From there, it’s a matter of making gradual transitions as Google does the same.