Google has run away with the web search market and hardly anyone is chasing it – Quartz

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Research represents the largest digital advertising market – nearly $ 50 billion worldwide last year, according to PwC, compared to just $ 34 billion for display ads, and growing by around 10% per year. But Google is so dominant in the search industry that few people even bother to challenge it.

Google in the lead

In the United States, its largest market, Google handles about two-thirds of web search queries, according to comScore, or some 12 billion last month. This has been the case for the past few years, as second- and third-place search engines, Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo, both far behind Google, have simply changed rank.

Google also dominates most other markets, says comScore’s Andrew Lipsman, except in a few, albeit giant, countries that use non-Roman alphabets. Baidu, for example, is the leader in China, while Yandex leads the Russian search market. Last year, Google generated $ 37 billion in revenue from “Google websites,” a collection that also includes YouTube and Gmail, but is primarily Google search, which represents 20% annual growth.

A giant market

Yet the market is large enough that even a small portion of the queries can turn into a meaningful business.

The IAC research and applications group, including Ask.com, which holds 2% of the search market in the United States, generated $ 1.6 billion in revenue and $ 368 million in revenue from ‘operation last year. AOL, with a 1.3% search market share in the United States, reported $ 389 million in global search revenue last year, or about a quarter of the company’s overall sales. Microsoft said its Bing search ad revenue increased 40% in the last quarter from a year earlier. Research is also, unintentionally, Yahoo’s bright spot.

Few competitors

So why aren’t more businesses tackling Google’s crown jewel? There have been a few high-profile web search failures over the past few years, especially Cuil, led by the former founder of AltaVista, a web search pioneer 1.0, and former Google employees. (Anna Patterson, co-founder and former president of Cuil, is now back at Google, where she is an engineering executive, according to his LinkedIn profile. She did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)

But the newer research startups start with a specific niche. Product hunting, a database of web and mobile products, lists 13 results for “search engine,” but each includes qualifications. These range from PeopleGraph– “The search engine for (find) technicians” – for Leap.it– “A visual search engine for the Web. A few top tech investors interviewed by Quartz – the guys who are exposed to promising startups in Silicon Valley – say most of the search engines they’ve seen in recent times are either only mobile or preying on themselves. to specific vertical sectors.

One to watch

There is one notable independent search engine in the United States that has been successful and seems to stick around: DuckDuckGo, founded in 2008 by Gabriel Weinberg. DuckDuckGo is distinguished by the fact that it does not track its users. Specifically, DuckDuckGo does not share its users’ search queries with other sites, store their search histories, or store any information about their computer or location, which many search engines do to boost their search results. advertising efforts. This is a defining characteristic that has led to impressive traffic growth, especially since the recent revelations of widespread government surveillance.

Last month, DuckDuckGo received approximately 159 million direct search queries, roughly double the number of a year ago. It also received 439 million requests last month through its API, an interface for developers. And its numbers should keep growing: Apple’s upcoming updates to its iOS and Mac operating systems allow users to select DuckDuckGo as the default search engine. Weinberg declined to disclose DuckDuckGo earnings, but notes that “it’s a myth that search engines have to follow you to make money on web search.”

Google’s multiple defenses

Yet even if the search advertising market grows, competing with Google will only get tougher.

Weinberg describes several challenges, ranging from cost – “startups can’t easily compete ‘head-on’ because it’s too expensive to copy, index and categorize the entire web” – to simple product differentiation. “The most difficult problem is creating a user experience that everyday people really want to move on,” he says. “This is not trivial because most people don’t have a problem with their current research experience. However, we believe that our focus on true confidentiality and smarter answers appeals to a significant percentage of the population.”

Google also created several advantages in distribution, which would be even more difficult for a small web search startup to manage. Most notably, it controls Android, the world’s first mobile operating system, from which the majority of search queries could one day come. He also created Chrome, which has become one of the most popular web browsers in the world. In both cases, Google is the built-in search engine by default. (Everyone is free, of course, to use whatever engine they want. But most will always choose the default settings.)

Google is also working on future forms of search, such as contextual and predictive services like Google now, which is designed to tell you what you need to know before you think about asking. (Startups could also make inroads here – Apple’s voice search tool Siri was originally an Apple-bought startup.)

But Google rarely finds itself behind. Facebook was once seen as a potential challenger to Google’s core business with a sort of “social search” tool. But Facebook introduced its search tools quite slowly. Its “graphical search” tool, available to some users, is an impressive way to search the Facebook user directory. But its web search tool, powered by Microsoft Bing, is still uninspiring.

How to beat Google

Will Google end up being overthrown? Anything is possible – the founders of AltaVista, HotBot, and WebCrawler probably all thought they were also safe at some point. One or two governments could someday seek to break Google’s grip on web services, as they once did with Microsoft on operating systems.

But it looks like a next-gen research challenger will have to feed on some sort of the internet or next-gen form of communication. Virtual reality? Mobile content integrated into the application? Telepathy? Either way, beating the Google machine will be a legendary feat.


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