Ever try and search for the market share of a popular search engine? It’s surprisingly difficult to find out, as results rely on different metrics like revenue, unique visitors, or organic search volume. But one constant remains in any subjective view of the search engine landscape — Google rules. comScore’s September 2012 US figures show Google Sites (which includes all their search properties) responsible for 66.7% of all searches. Even five years ago, Google’s share was 57%. Their dominance has been an ongoing theme in the SEM industry and, for at least the short term, it is unlikely to change.
And In This Corner, The Challengers
Google comes out with new products and innovations to remain ahead of the curve and maintain control, but internet giants do have a history of stumbling. Not too long ago, IE was the king of browsers, Yahoo was a leading figure in search, and MySpace owned social media. It’s extremely unlikely that Google will see a decline as rapid as those entities, given the increased maturity of both the search industry and the internet, but the following factors could lead to a new search engine claiming dominance in the next 5 to 10 years.
- Advertising affecting user experience — Google revenue mostly stems from AdWords, and they continue to search for new ways to monetize the SERPs. Taken too far, users may finally get disgruntled and move to an engine not so cluttered with ads.
- The impact of the filter bubble— Not everyone loves personalized and local search, which create a more subjective search experience every day. The resulting “filter bubble” makes it harder for a searcher to find and discover new results.
- FTC rulings — Notice how Google’s sponsored listings look more and more like organic results? It’s within the realm of possibility that the FTC will deem such practices illegal, forcing Google to revisit how they provide search engine results.
- Privacy concerns — A growing number of people are not thrilled with Google tracking them across the internet and would rather stay anonymous.
Taking these factors into consideration, the biggest threat to Google could simply be a search engine coming along that the average consumer prefers more. So, here are three existing candidates that are in line to rule after Google.
1. Bing — As the obvious first choice to overtake Google, Bing powered search results (meaning its partner sites, as well as Yahoo) for 25.1% of all US searches in September 2012, a very significant number. Bing is also the second most popular search engine when judged by a variety of other SEM share numbers. While Bing ads may lack usability for search engine marketers themselves, its SERP pages are incredibly similar to Google in look and functionality. Can you tell which is Bing and which is Google from the results shown below?
These shots were taken using Bing’s latest marketing push at BingItOn.com, where you enter a query and vote on which results you prefer. TV ads for this promotion claim people prefer Bing results over Google 2 to 1, although no actual results are shown. Nevertheless, the “test” does show how similar the two engines really are when it comes to results. With heavy advertising, Microsoft will continue to chip away at Google’s market share by putting Bing in the consideration set of the consumer.
Another current advantage Bing has is the integration of Facebook into the search experience, while Google has the less popular Google+. While not everyone is a fan of the marriage of search and social, if Bing and Facebook keep and improve upon this partnership, it is a huge advantage for the Microsoft-owned search engine. But for Bing to ultimately overtake the lead, a stumble or two from Google will be needed. If that happens, and Google continues to disgruntle some of its current user base, Bing will be waiting in the wings.
2. DuckDuckGo — Few have heard of this newer search engine, but according to Compete, it attracted over 303,000 monthly unique visitors in September 2012. Obviously, from a numbers standpoint, DuckDuckGo is a long way from attracting more users than Google, but it is gathering praise for being a valid alternative. It operates by gathering results from other search engines and creating a hybrid of results. Except for a few add-ons, it’s very stripped down and devoid of the clutter present on Google (although as one of Bing’s search partners, it does have sponsored listings). It’s run by just a few people, which appeals to those rebelling against giants of industry.
But why exactly is DuckDuckGo a contender to overtake Google? There are two very big reasons. First, users aren’t tracked. With privacy concerns growing, DuckDuckGo provides what it calls an “anonymous” search engine to alleviate those worries. As marketers, we appreciate the ability to target potential customers with incredible precision. Often the general public isn’t even aware this is going on, but once they do, privacy becomes a larger issue. For those who don’t like remarketing and don’t want your information sold to a third party, DuckDuckGo appears to be a valid solution to the concept of tracking. Second, because users aren’t tracked, there are no personalized search results. Results are objective; everyone sees the same thing. Eliminating subjective results gets rid of the filter bubble — something DuckDuckGo believes is very important. Move to this search engine and your results won’t be predicated on your location or past behavior.
DuckDuckGo differentiates itself by going back in time, which could actually be more innovative than anything Google may come up with in the foreseeable future. Likely its best-case scenario is to steal percentage points of market share from Google and become a solid second-tier search engine. But if Google alienates a large enough number of users with privacy concerns and overdone personalized search, DuckDuckGo could prove to be a significant threat to rise above Google.
3. Facebook — While Facebook doesn’t currently have its own search engine, it’s inevitable that it will. In September 2012, Mark Zuckerberg said “at some point we’ll do it” when asked about the social media goliath building a search engine. It truly is the next logical step for Facebook, which is uniquely positioned to succeed in the search arena. With investors to satisfy, they need to find alternatives beyond monetizing their current structure with ads.
Facebook already has a billion members, contains an incredible amount of demographic and psychographic information on all of its users, and many already use it on some level for search. Whether seeking recommendations from friends, searching for someone, or looking for a service that suit current needs, you can find it through Facebook.
If Facebook decided to build a more traditional search engine, what would it look like? While others are trying to make search more social, Facebook would likely aim to make social more like search. The company could quickly transform its wealth of user information into a very large database of searchable information. In fact, it is very likely they have been doing this for years, and perhaps always planned on creating a search engine.
Facebook information could easily be geared toward gathering recommendations on products or services. Think about searching for “best basketball shoes” on Google, where you are overrun by product feeds, sponsored listings, and optimized websites. Then imagine doing so on a Facebook engine, where you would find aggregated data from fellow basketball fans who have opinions on “the best basketball shoes,” are already fans of specific brands, and have posted pictures of their favorite shoes. Results could be based off of mass social consciousness, instead of product pushing by marketers. The concept of a mass social consciousness search engine leads to an endless amount of ideas and possibilities that would certainly formulate a winning product. This is something that we haven’t quite seen yet, but the idea of a brand-new way to search is probably what it will take for Google to be conquered.
So which will it be – Bing, DuckDuckGo, Facebook, or some other contender? Only time will tell. Remember, however, that it wasn’t too long ago that Google was the new kid on the block, taking over from properties that made the wrong choices in the paths they took. Change is inevitable, especially online, and particularly as we become even more connected.