Google has been dominating the search market for years. Simply put, if you ask most people to search for something on the web, their first instinct is to go to Google. More and more people might be getting reprogrammed to go to Bing, however. The "decision engine" still has a ways to go before it reaches Google-like numbers, but it's come a long way since its launch last year. The search market has also lost an old player and gained a new one.
Do you think Google is in any danger of losing a significant amount of search market share? Tell us what you think.
A Shift to Bing?
"I think that we're going to see a shift to Bing," predicts Clay. "Understand that this is a very complex dynamic. The market share, (if you're going to use that as a measurement) for Google is holding steady. The market share for social is where all the play is. Even YouTube is now the second largest search engine (above Microsoft). We've seen the Bing and Yahoo numbers switch pretty aggressively. So now we're seeing that Bing has a much larger market share than Yahoo."
"Now if the results are substantially similar between Bing and Yahoo...I think that market share comes out to approximately 30%," adds Clay. "At 30%...yeah, it's a power. I think Google, for many years, was quite happy to allow Bing and Yahoo and Ask and others to fight it out, because it was a divide and conquer kind of a thing. You divide your competition into smaller market segments, they don't have the power to compete. I think that with a 30% market share going to Yahoo, it think that it has got some power to compete."
Add the new Windows Phone 7 operating system to the mix, and things get quite interesting. Also consider that Windows Phone is already getting things that Android is unable to get at this point - major things like Netflix. Last week, Netflix announced that because a "lack of a generic and complete platform security and content protection mechanism" for Android, it has been unable get its service on the operating system (though it intends to get the service on some models next year). That could be the difference between choosing an Android device or a new "shiny object" like the Windows Phones for a lot of users in the meantime, and with Bing as the default search, that could mean some Bing converts.
Clay compares the evolving search market to the browser market. "In the beginning, there was Netscape, and it was the browser, says Clay. "Then it was IE, and it was the browser. Then there was, 'what is it? Firefox? A new browser?' And now there's Chrome...I think things shift, and I think that the leader is subject to change if they do things that the public doesn't like."
"Obviously a lot of the things that Google's been working on and implementing, I think have been confusing to a great extent to the end user," he adds. "There's way too much now on a page. I think Google's gotta figure out what is gonna work and what is not gonna work, and take it off or Bing is gonna have an excellent opportunity to come in with the 'keep it simple' approach, and they're going to win the hearts of the novice searcher. And let's face it: the web is still growing."
I personally wonder how common the "novice searcher" is at this point. Kids are being brought up with search these days. Search isn't new anymore. That's not to say there aren't still some new to the web, but there are far less people just getting into searching the web. It's become a way of life. And it's still essentially just typing queries into a box, at least if you've gotten as far as going to Google to perform a search.
In some ways, one could argue that Google's made searching easier by adding visible filtering options to the column, and even giving results before the user is even finished typing. I think people are getting more proficient at searching. How often do you have to go past the first page of search results to find what you're looking for? It happens, but probably not nearly as much as it used to. You're probably more apt to refine your query.
Google will always try to improve though. "Google has a lot of engineers and they have a lot of users, and there's a lot of feedback and interaction, and Google has the ability to figure out what works and what doesn't work," notes Clay.
Out with the Old
The search market recently lost another "major player" (besides Yahoo serving Bing results). Ask announced that it was pulling out of search to focus on Q&A. That's one less competitor for Bing.
"A lot of people, including a lot of the people who work for me, really like Ask," says Clay. "Ask had done a lot of very, very creative items. They had changed the format. They had done blended search...actually they were all set to announce blended search, and Google ran up and said, 'oh hi...Universal.', the day before blended was supposed to come out."
"The general feeling I have about it is that they didn't make an impact on the market," he continues. "And over the last three years, their market share has been shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. They haven't been moving forward as a search engine. So, clearly if you keep doing the same thing that's failing over and over and over again, then you're going to fail. So they're obviously having to go in a different direction."
The market has been whittled down gradually over the years, and it's probably barely been noticed by most people. "Pulling out as a major search engine is nothing unique," notes Clay. "In the beginning, we had our search engine relationship chart. It had like twenty-some bubbles on it. Now there's like eight. You know, a lot of engines have been consumed or went away, so I think Ask just moving out is not a big deal. It may actually cater more as a supplemental platform than a primary platform...I think it will be around. It just won't be the same."
The New Kid
While the market may have lost a well-known player, it has also gained some new blood. Rich Skrenta calls his new search engine, Blekko, the "third search engine" behind Google and Bing/Yahoo. "Google and Bing really is the competition," Skrenta told WebProNews. "All the rest are folded or gone away."
"I don't think it's necessarily the 'third search engine'," says Clay. "I think that they've done some things rather in a smart way. One of the things that you're going to have to know is if you want the SEO industry and the webmasters and the people that are able to influence customers by saying 'Hi, you have to rank in this search engine', that search engine has to communicate back to that community, and I think a lot of what they've done is very smart."
"They've provided a lot of statistics, they've provided a lot of ways of looking at traffic, of looking at your site...I think a search engine that embraces how to get ranked in that search engine is going to find more people willing to get ranked in that search engine," he says.
Finding a niche audience in SEO might be Blekko's destiny however - more of a useful tool than a mainstream search engine. Time will tell, but that's the general feeling I'm getting. Clay seems to have a similar view.
"I think that the kind of tools that they have are great. I think people will use it," says Clay. "I think we're gonna use it. You'd be foolish to ignore them. I just don't know that a person that is a novice searcher is going to particularly know to go there...There's gotta be something that they're able to do...maybe their approach to keep it simple is gonna work or not. Are they going to have more relevant results? That I haven't really seen. Is it going to be a player? I think that what we ought to do is just give it six months and see what they're doing. It certainly could become another Ask - great, great technology, but nobody knows to go there."
We'll see. I think in the meantime, Google is more worried about Bing (not to mention Facebook and Apple).
Which search engine do you prefer: Google, Yahoo, Bing, or Blekko? Something else? Let us know.