Most people use search engines with little or no understanding of how they actually work – such as why one listing ranks higher than another or what cookies do or even how search engines are monetized. This is partly the fault of the search engines, who keep a lot of what they do a secret. But it is also partly because most people don’t really care how it works. As long as it provides a wealth of information easily, accurately and quickly, the functionality hasn’t really mattered much. However, business owners, managers and professionals should care, if they want their products or services to be ‘findable’ on the World Wide Web. Without understanding how search engines work, it is impossible to ensure that a company’s desired messaging will be found by potential clients or customers.
What is interesting is that, while search engines may seem static and unchanging to users, the reality is that search engines and the world of search is constantly changing. Search engines adjust their algorithms (the step-by-step functions to be performed to find and deliver information) regularly to stay a step ahead of those who manipulate online information for their own needs or wants. Updates are rolled out periodically that alter how information is ranked. Moreover, the search engine market is constantly evolving to meet the needs and concerns of those using search engines. And the search engine market is growing exponentially. But how will all this affect business?
The Search Engine Market
Most people use a search engine to find specific information about a particular product, service or topic in an uncluttered, easy-to-read way. Search engines aggregate and parse through a world of information and deliver specific information with just a few taps on a keyboard. The search engine’s helpful tools can broaden or tighten a search to zero in on the targeted information wanted. These results are typically presented as a mix of individually-posted information, media-posted information, business-driven information and sites that aggregate data by topic. That mix of links is then ranked in order of relevance according to the search engine’s criteria (that’s the secret sauce). Advertisements related to the search term are also often in the mix.
Since each search engine handles search a little differently, it’s important to know which ones are being used by the target audience most. This is a continually-moving target. As of July 2015, there were three main search engines that controlled over 90% of all online searches globally. According to Netmarketshare.com, Google had 64% of the market share. Yahoo / Bing had 21.44%, and Baidu had 8.13%. While Google continues to be the 800-pound gorilla of search — true five years ago and still true today — there are other competitors; some old and some new.
The leading search engine used in China, Baidu, is now ranking among the top three globally. Baidu has also been making moves to woo the interest of English-speaking developers. In 2013, Baidu launched an English-language site tailored to developers and even hired Andrew Ng, Google’s former head of Artificial Intelligence.
In addition to the top three search engines, there are other well-known search engines such as AOL and Ask, but those only handle a very small sliver of the search market. They handle search in much the same way that Google does. But, there are lesser-known search engines that are gaining some traction as alternatives to Google. Alternative search engines include:
- DuckDuckGo – DuckDuckGo is a search engine that does not keep track of user searches and keeps a searcher’s search information private. Given the growing concern about privacy and security, this search engine offers an alternative to “big brother watching.”
- Yandex – Yandex is a Russian-based search engine.
- IxQuick – IxQuick is a search engine that does not store any user-specific details such as cookies or saved queries. It is another choice for those who desire anonymity and want to keep their interests private.
- Gibiru – Gibiru search results include censored search results that don’t appear in Google and allows anonymous proxy searches to ensure privacy. So it allows searches to find hidden information without compromising the searcher’s own privacy.
- Mahalo – Mahalo is a ‘human-powered’ search site, employing a committee of editors to manually sift and vet thousands of pieces of content. Mahalo generates fewer results but those results have a higher quality of content and relevance.
- Dogpile – While the name leaves something to be desired, Dogpile preceded Google as a fast and efficient choice for web searching. Then it faded into obscurity in the 1990s and is now making a comeback. It has a growing index, a clean and quick presentation and helpful crosslink results.
- Yippy – Yippy is a Deep Web engine that searches other search engines. Unlike the regular Web, which is indexed by robot spider programs, Deep Web pages are usually harder to locate by conventional search. That’s where Yippy becomes very useful. For those searching for obscure hobby interest blogs, obscure government information, tough-to-find obscure news, academic research and otherwise-obscure content, Yippy is the search engine to use.
There are other niche-audience search engines that will likely never gain major market share. For example, the Internet Archive takes snapshots of the entire World Wide Web and has been doing so for many years. It allows users to see what a web page looked like in 1999, or what the news was like after September 11, 2001 or another major world event. It isn’t the type of search engine that would be used daily, but it’s useful for those who want to do a little time travel.
Why so much new or emerging competition in the world of search? There are two main reasons. First, the search industry is growing. Google and Yahoo / Bing accounted for 94.7% of all search engine revenue, which was approximately $22.4 Billion last year. Revenue from search is expected to continue to grow 7% per year for the next five years. It is a thriving industry. Like any thriving industry, it is ripe for competition, especially given the concentration of the market in the hands of just three major players, and given Google’s overwhelming and ongoing dominance above all the rest combined. Second, many people are not happy with the way Google is manipulating its search results and bombarding searches with ads. While this accounts for its success is monetizing search, users are increasingly tired of their private search information being used and abused by Google.
For companies wanting to reach users conducting searches, it is key to know which search engines are being used by select audiences. Right now, to reach overall audiences via search, the most obvious bets are Google and Yahoo / Bing in the U.S. But a company making inroads into foreign markets, such as a NY developer or U.S. REIT wanting to attract Chinese and Russian investors, might want to consider optimizing for and placing paid ads on Baidu or Yandex. Companies wanting to reach conservative, affluent audiences who tend to be more privacy-sensitive might want to consider optimizing for and advertising on search engines such as DuckDuckGo or Gibiru, if budget allows. Ultimately, all decisions regarding marketing should be made in tandem with the company’s overall Converged Media Plan. (If you don’t know what that is, backtrack to last week’s post.) By leveraging the company’s paid, earned and owned media and using the best channels can a company continue to stay ahead of the competition.
Quote of the Week
“If they think Google is too powerful, remember that with search engines — unlike other companies — all it takes is a single click to go to another search engine.” Sergey Brin
© 2015, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.