Google has nothing short of a strangle-hold on the search engine marketplace. In the UK for example, the last few months has seen Google market share at around 90%, with Yahoo! and Bing around 3 – 4% each; with the remainder composed of Ask and “other.”
Despite these percentages many search professionals agree that even when rankings are fairly stable across each search engine, it seems like Google drives way more traffic pro-rata, than its competitors. With the sheer volume of traffic coming from Google, it is usually more rewarding to spend all your efforts pushing a page two-listing up a place, rather than getting to the top spot on Bing.
I’m also writing this post on the day that everyone on my tweetstream got Google Buzz (apart from me). I’ve read some considered and thorough reviews and frankly, I’m frikkin terrified. It may be rather glib of me to write about something I’ve not personally tested, but I have accounts that I do not want linked together. I have accounts that I set up for clients. I have accounts deliberately set up so I can register for sites that I know will spam the shit out of me (you know the kind I mean). I have no desire to create content for Google to host, in their quest to serve all of the world’s online information regardless of origin, and I do NOT want to live in a world where my Google Fridge gets low on milk and sends me a buzz, which my Mum will see, because I stupidly put my fridge settings on “public” and now she’s bought four pints of milk, and I already bought four pints of milk and now we have a milk-surplus emergency; but then Buzz sends data back to my Google Freezer which says to me (in HAL’s voice) “Nichola… You can freeze milk Nichola”.
WE ARE ONE STEP AWAY FROM THE WALL-E FAT CHAIRS!
I know that Microsoft’s hardly the Rainbow Warrior of the technology world, but the search monopoly has to end. I hoover with a Dyson; I want to google with Bing. I know that this is the longest of long shots, but there are significant changes on the horizon. Distribution deals, product and relevancy improvements and the entire Yahoo! deal. If you join the dots on all this I think there is a case for hope.
In terms of marketing strategy let’s not forget that Bing has not yet been formally launched in Europe. Although the product may be out of Beta, we’ve yet to experience the full official launch, with lightshows and monkeys and stuff. Current marketing spend is focused on convincing us of our collective responsibility for Windows 7; until they sort out the Bing relevancy issues in Europe. This was slated for Q1 2010, so hopefully we’ll see an end to that godawful “My idea” campaign and move onto another one.
2009 was a good year for Bing on home turf however; where location relevancy isn’t the issue it is in Europe. In a year when Global search activity rose 46% year on year, (comparing December 08 to December 09) search activity on Bing rose a whopping 70%. Although the figures are worldwide; this is driven almost entirely by US activity. Pretty staggering when you compare that to Google’s 58% year on year growth, and that US total search market growth at 22% year on year equates to 22.7 BN searches in December. At 10.7% share of market 2.43 BN searches in the US alone is a helluva lot of performance data to learn from. It is worth mentioning that the latest figures show another month on month increase, with Bing now at 11.3% for January. Not all of it at the expense of Yahoo! either. Yep! The mighty Google lost search market share in the US in January. (Okay so it was only .3 of a percent, but even based on December volume that’s 6.8MM searches.)
(Data from ComScore)
Whilst this is promising for the US market in the here and now; I wanted to get some sort of insight into future direction and distinction for Bing. I spoke to David Harry of SEO Training Dojo, whom I happen to know keeps a very diligent watch on search-related patent and research papers. David told me that in terms of raw numbers Microsoft have in recent times, filed four new search patents compared to one from Google, and five search- research papers, compared to (again), just one from Google. David was keen to point out that we can’t read too much into this looking at volume alone. I’d certainly support that (having worked in investor relations; patent and research papers can often be as much an exercise in analyst communications, as in intellectual property.) Considering the detail of patent and research papers with application for search; David did point out a number of areas in which “Microsoft seems to lead the way”. In particular vision based page segmentation algorithms, (ViPs). Although the origin of this research isn’t new, and the applications extend to more than SERPS; it is clear that as the future of search and information retrieval heads towards greater integration of multi-media and other rich content, which requires much more sophisticated display algorithms – that this research could potentially come into its’ own.
In terms of what is definitely in the development schedule, I sat in on a presentation by Cedric Chambaz; Marketing Manager for Search at Microsoft, at the recent London Affiliate Conference. Cedric emphasised a number of times, that user interface and rich content are a directional focus for Bing and that their commitment to this market is to offer “a new search experience”, which from what I saw does extended to more than what we would currently consider to be a “universal search” experience, towards re-purposing content specific to the user intent. We saw a great example where a search for “premiership players”, would bring up a grid-format SERP, with an official profile image for each Premiership football player, all formatted to the same specification, and each with comparable match statistics and profile data. Similarly (and live for some months) a search for “BA 174KL” will provide live arrival and departure information. I say ‘similarly’ as these information-search developments are fulfilled with third party content partnerships, in this case Sky Sports and FlightStats. Although in respect to flight data, Google also provide this service via FlightStats.
Partnerships are certainly the way forward for Bing and should the Yahoo! deal be approved, this means instant double market share in the UK, though slightly less gain for most other European countries. Deal terms have been agreed, finalised and already approved in Canada and Australia. It is now just a matter of time for approval and integration.
BREAKING NEWS Thursday 18th 10:48 am PDT: Yahoo! and Microsoft have just announced that the terms of the search partnership have just received regulatory approval from both U.S. Department of Justice and the European Comission. In the deal terms Microsoft will power search on Yahoo! properties, though Yahoo! will be able to differentiate search experience by integrating personalised information and Yahoo! content, alongside results.
There we go then… instant double market-share.
Other distribution deals of note are the recent Facebook deal and the likely iPhone/Safari deal. Facebook, though one of the biggest online destinations in Europe, will likely be more of a revenue boost than a search market share boost. In terms of the deal, paid search ads will be displayed against all search results on Facebook (barring People search), therefore including Group, Event and Page searches; in addition to the web search integration. My own commercial-search distribution experience, tells me that it’s not the size of the distribution partner (by users or page impressions) that drives search engagement, but rather the type of visit activity occurring on that distribution source. We go to Facebook to post family pictures, stalk exes, and poke the shit out of people. We don’t go there to search for a low mortgage rate. My gut feel is that any search market-share boost will be minimal and there will be considerable usability concerns along the way. Either you add web search as a drop-down option, which leads to poor engagement; or you have two distinct search boxes, which is a usability nightmare in itself.
I’m most excited about the potential iPhone/Safari deal. Rumoured for some months and gaining credibility, is the story that Apple and Microsoft are in talks for Bing to be default search engine on the iPhone/Safari browser. Now this… could be the big boost for Bing. According to Admob estimates, there were 5,414,068 MM iPhones in the UK, France and Germany by July 2009. Given there was a worldwide growth in device shipments of 509%* (year on year) in the second quarter of 2009, I think it is fair to say that there could be significantly more iPhones and iPhone users in Europe than the July figures. Again; as with Facebook, size of distribution partner is not the only variable, it is the user behaviour, and iPhone user behaviour doth make the perfect search partner. iPhone users are high volume web users (within the smartphone market), with 88% regularly accessing the internet via their phones.
*Gartner: August 2009
Data taken from Econsultancy Mobile Statistics Compendium: February 2010
Of course, Google isn’t just going to sit around whilst all of these deals are in talks or closing stages, and we’re yet to see the impact of Google’s Nexus One in Europe. Still, I’m hoping for something from Bing. I want to have a quality alternative for my own search activity. I’m bored of dancing to one bloody tune. (Yeah – they change the pitch and frequency, I know.) Mostly I look at my traffic logs and think the search war is over. You can’t come back from a 90% monopoly, surely? When the product becomes the verb, it’s game-over.
Then… another part of me remembers the Dyson.