Search engine wars – Is the empire striking back

Search engine wars – Is the empire striking back

28th September 2011

I have done a couple of these search engine market share analysis pieces on my blog over the years, and for much of that time Google has ruled the roost. The likes of Yahoo and Wolfram Alpha (who????) have all offered much and delivered little and in recent times Bing has made some serious noises but struggled to gain much traction at Google’s expense – although recent news suggested Bing had made significant inroads in terms of the US marketplace

When I ran a similar piece of analysis around 9 months back, Google had around 90% market share, a figure it has had for the best part of three of four years now – and a trend commonplace pretty much around Western Europe – and North America to be honest. Whilst Yahoo used to be the deputy for much of that time, Bing has made some significant strides and over recent years has become a significant threat to the Yahoo market share and now accounts for a higher proportion of searches than Yahoo according to a number of recent Hitwise reports.

Whilst Google have always had a stronghold in these core markets, other markets have been more difficult to conquer. Their issues in China have been well documented, and whilst they were making some strides, Baidu were always the primary operator and recent improvements to their search product, coupled with an increasingly cosy relationship with Bing means that any re-entry for Google into the Chinese marketplace is likely to be unsuccessful in the short to medium term. Other potentially lucrative marketplaces such as Russia and Japan have also encoutered some stubborn resistance. This obviously does potentially represent a future threat to Google – maybe not in these core ‘Westernised’ battelgrounds, but certainly in areas such as the Middle East and Turkey to name a few.

Further to that it doesn’t take an expert to see Google are slightly taking their eye of the search space. Two areas in particular would appear to be of particular interest namely that of retargeting and that of mobile. Many of the new proposed beta products certainly allow a greater degree of control and flexibility around these two battlegrounds.

Bing therefore do have an advantage that much of the improvisation is centered around developing their search product into a more competitive vehicle. Recent improvements to the likes of their personalisation framework would appear to bring it more inline with the Google approach.

However looking at recent Hitwise data, the volume of search going through Google has remained fairly constant during the last 12 months. The big winners have been Bing, however increasingly that market share is coming from Yahoo. US trends would suggest Bing are starting to take market share away from Google, and one can’t help thinking as the PPC product matures, the Bing/Yahoo framework is introduced and matures that we may start to see advertisers and searchers start to use Bing as more of a resource than it is present.

The opportunity for Facebook is still a long way off. For now social is the battleground and consolidation of that is the short to medium term aim. The deal with Bing could in the long term see something viable come of it but that is still a long way off.

For now Google continues to be a huge part of most advertisers campaigns. Increasingly we may see those budgets migrate to the likes of Facebook ads and alternative search engines however whilst the traffic, and the lead volumes continue to be dominated by Google those budgets will often remain significantly weighted in Google’s favour. When (rather than if), CPA’s for the Facebook come down and volumes increase on the engines we may see a very different picture. However the wheels need to start turning, once they do the fun and games will start…


Written By
Peter has been around the industry for a while now, having previously headed up both search and SEO operations at Connectpoint (now Amaze), Mediavest, Brilliant Media and now Search & Social Director for Mediacom.
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