Have you ever heard anybody say: if you don’t know the answer, then just “Yahoo” it? Most likely, the answer is a definitive “no”. When it comes to the search engines that dominate our daily lives, none are more pertinent than Google, and the numbers certainly bear this out. According to comScore’s Search Engine Market Share, Google completely dominates the search engine market, with a total share of about 64%. The closest competitors are Yahoo and the ill-fated Microsoft search engine Bing, which captured a market share of 12% and 21% respectively.
To even the most casual web user, it seems that Google has decidedly won the search engine war, and will continue to be our primary source of information for decades to come. Given that Google reported revenues of over $110 billion for 2017, it doesn’t look like it’ll be sinking anytime soon. It wasn’t always this way, however. Just a few years back it seemed to most pundits like the coveted prize of becoming the global search engine (China notwithstanding) was totally up for grabs, and Google didn’t look like a clear winner of the race until relatively recently.
In the heady days of the dotcom bubble, search engines were a dime a dozen, with market share being fragmented into hundreds of sub-groups depending on a wide variety of demographic factors. So what changed, and will Google really dominate the web in perpetuity? Let’s take a look at the history of the search engine war, to see if there’s any chance of Google’s star fading in the future.
The Pre-Google Internet
Right up until the early 2000s, Google didn’t even register as one of the big players in the search engine world. While the concept of using a search-based platform to navigate the internet was still in a relative stage of infancy, the big players throughout the 90s were Yahoo, which is still going today, and a now-unknown platform called Excite.
Like Google, Excite was founded by former Stanford University students, who came up with the bright idea of improving web search by linking word relationships via statistical analysis. In fact, Excite was actually offered Google to buy back in 1999 for a mere $750,000, but turned it down. They sold up to a platform called @Home, which went bankrupt in 2001 following the dotcom crash, effectively killing Excite for good. Other major sites before Google took over included InfoSeek, which was actually bought by Disney, who decided to cut their losses after the crash and simply shut it down, firing everybody involved in the company. Ouch.
It seems Google owes a significant chunk of their success to not selling up at the height of the dotcom bubble and surviving the ensuing crash and tech rivalries in one piece.
How Google Won
There are a lot of factors that have been attributed to Google’s astonishing success. Popular tech magazine TechCrunch believes Google’s success over Yahoo was due to Google developing its own in-house server space, data centers, and technological capabilities, while Yahoo outsourced to many now-defunct companies.
Part of Google’s victory has also been attributed to their overwhelming focus on improving and simplifying the user experience, especially through their non-intrusive advertising model that Yahoo and Bing could have learned a thing or two from. Then there’s, of course, the poor decisions made by the competition. Bing is still going, and operating at a loss of roughly $1.3 billion a year according to Venture Harbour, despite their dogged attempts to force Microsoft users to use the search engine on their devices. While Bing’s star has faded even more than Yahoo’s, this could’ve played out very differently had Microsoft gotten what they wanted back in 2008, at the height of Bing’s popularity.
Microsoft actually entered negotiations to buy Yahoo for a cool $45 billion, in an attempt to merge it with Bing and provide a serious competitor to the rapidly ascendant Google. As we know, Yahoo pulled out of the negotiations and its value promptly plummeted shortly after, a historic misfire which ranks among Betway’s tally of the worst business decisions of all time, given that Yahoo is now worth nowhere near $45 billion. It also helps that Google has spent the last few years hoovering up any rival platform that could possibly represent competition, such as YouTube and even the declining phone company Motorola.
It seems that, not so long ago, the race to win the internet was neck and neck, and it’s unlikely that anyone could have predicted the speed with which Google has become akin to something of a monopoly or a cartel, but this might change in the future.
Will the Future Look Different?
A look at the current search engine landscape makes it difficult to believe that Google is going anywhere but up. However. it’s possible that someday Google will no longer be the king of the web, and you just need to look beyond Yahoo and Microsoft to see why.
For a serious competitor, look to China, where their hugely popular (and in many ways superior) technology is finally making strides in the west, with companies like Huawei and WeChat already displacing Apple and WhatsApp. It’s very possible that the future may belong to Baidu, the Chinese search engine that is already one of the most popular in the world in terms of the number of users and has enough appealing qualities to easily displace Google if it was seriously offered to users in the West.
Only time will tell.