Battle For Search Market Share Heats Up Again

It’s hard to imagine, but more than 10 years ago, during December 2004, Google’s market share was only 35%, Yahoo’s was 32% and MSN was at 16%.

Let’s face it: there have been few threats to Google’s massive lead in search market share over the subsequent decade. Bing and Yahoo’s partnership was approved in February 2010, at which point Google had 65.5% of the market, with Yahoo at 16.8% and Microsoft at 11.5%.

Since then, Google’s lead actually increased, peaking in May/June 2014 at 67.6%. Microsoft has made a big push since taking over from Yahoo, hitting a recent high of 19.7% in December. But something interesting happened last November: Yahoo announced that it had displaced Google as Firefox’s default search engine, signing a five-year deal with Mozilla.



Here’s something you probably don’t know about Firefox: the default search engine relationship provides nearly 90% of Mozilla’s revenue. How much is that? A lot, actually. In the last published year (2013), Google paid Firefox $275 million for this honor.

The impact of the Firefox decision was immediate. In December, the first month of the new deal saw Google fall to 65.4%, its lowest share of search since 2009. Yahoo was responsible for the 1.6% drop, moving itself up to 11.8%. Google hasn’t take this lying down, using links on its homepage to show Firefox users how to make Google their default search engine as well as tweeting instructions.

Forbes suggests that this doesn’t matter to Google, instead citing threats such as Amazon and the end of its deal as the default search engine for Apple Safari. It’s interesting to note here that the iPhone (Safari mobile) and Safari (desktop) are each bigger than Firefox, and together are larger than IE.

So what do we make of all of this? Google will certainly get some of its lost share back -- Internet users have made Google #1 for a reason. Some even suggest that Yahoo’s benefit from the Firefox move has already peaked. 

Here are a few of my observations about the big three engines in 2015:

1)  Search matters again to Yahoo. Previous management abandoned its proprietary algorithm and jumped on the Bing bandwagon. CEO Marissa Mayer was employee number 20 at Google and ran the search division for five years. There is a new, cleaner look to Yahoo search; it will be interesting to see if the changes go beyond the surface.

2)  Bing is about to make it to 20% market share. It’s been a long time since a competitor could say that. Slowly, but surely, Bing’s investment in search is paying off. Its introduction of beautiful backgrounds actually caused Google to make an effort with its homepage design. If you add in Yahoo’s share (as Yahoo uses the Bing algorithm), Bing is back to where Yahoo was in 2005.

3)  Google’s working hard, also ruffling feathers. Don’t think that Google’s resting on its laurels.  It’s testing more feverously than ever and rolling out new features for marketers like its mobile-friendly tools. However, it’s also running the risk of biting the hand that feeds it. If you’ve read this previous column, you know that Google’s been using top-ranked content as the basis for its Knowledge Graph -- great for users, but bad for sites developing great content.

It’s been a long time coming, but the fight among Google, Yahoo and Bing is worth discussing. Yahoo is making an effort -- and a big prize, the default search engine in Safari, is up for grabs. And for the first time since 2009, a search engine besides Google might get more than 20% market share.

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