Just When You Thought Search Was Quieting Down...

Just because the world of search may not appear to have had many bombshells recently doesn't mean there’s a shortage of important developments. Many have flown under the radar due to the amount of expansion in this space. However, these developments should not go unnoticed. Here is an overview of the biggest happenings with each of the big four — yes, you read that right, four — search engines.

1. Google seems to be doing OK.  Its new parent company, Alphabet, announced earnings on Oct. 22 and was rewarded with another $45 billion in market capital. In astounding fashion, Google has joined Apple as one of only two $500+ billion companies. The stock is up 40% since July, when new CFO Ruth Porat laid out her financial vision for the company.  

Google confirmed it has developed and is using a proprietary artificial intelligence tool called RankBrain to help deliver its search results. Without telling us what are numbers one or two, Google did share that this new technology is the third most important ranking signal. Also, the company announced a new project, AMP, intended to “dramatically improve the performance of the mobile web.” At the center of this is AMP HTML, a new open-source framework designed to provide a faster mobile Web. Working with publishers and technology companies like Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Adobe, Google seeks to also improve mobile content and distribution while ensuring that measurement and advertising remain integrated and effective.



2. Bing continues to strengthen its hold on the number-two spot. Thanks to the success of Windows 10, Bing’s market share continues to rise, hitting 20.7% of U.S. search in September, according to comScore. Even better, after many years of heavy investment, Microsoft said that Bing is now profitable, generating $1 billion in revenue in Q1 FY2016.

Clearly search is now Microsoft’s central digital advertising play, having sold its display advertising business to AOL and its mapping data business to Uber. Microsoft is betting on Cortana as well, integrating it within many aspects of Windows 10 and delivering versions for Android and iOS devices.

3. Yahoo is broadening its search horizons. Previously wed to Bing, Yahoo has struck a deal with Google to use its Web and image search services as well as provide AdSense for Search (AFS) ads on both desktop and mobile. Microsoft reiterated that Bing will continue to serve search results to the majority of Yahoo traffic, as their recently renegotiated contract states that the share will be no less than 51%. This follows Yahoo’s move to gain more control over its advertising business with the launch and enhancement of its ad marketplace, Gemini, and its huge deal to become the default search engine for Firefox.

And on Yahoo’s most recent earnings call, CEO Marissa Mayer confirmed that the company has its own mobile search algorithm to go along with its proprietary knowledge graph. To sum up, Yahoo is quite the search Frankenstein, powered primarily by Bing, but with some pieces powered internally, and with others now powered by Google.

4. Apple is emerging as the fourth search engine. Now that Apple Maps is the preferred mapping tool for iPhones, it’s time to take this company seriously. As for a true search engine, let’s start by acknowledging Apple’s proprietary search interface, Spotlight, which currently powers iMac and iOS search functions. Add in the AppleBot, which is Apple’s webcrawler (similar to GoogleBot), and Tim Cook’s recent comments on Apple TV’s universal search function, and it’s all starting to add up. Watch your back, Google — the world’s largest company might very well be coming after your bread and butter.

As you can see, there is still a lot going on in search, from the resurgence of Yahoo to the profitability of Bing and the very recent breakout financial performance by Google. But watch out for Apple, which has quietly been putting the pieces together to enter the fray with its own proprietary platform.  If this bombshell drops, the market may get the disruption that many have been seeking.

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