We get so focused on Google that it’s easy to forget there are alternatives to Google search. Granted, the alternatives are not nearly as popular. At 66% market share and 11.7 billion searches during the month of February 2012 alone, Google clearly is the leader. But other search engines are worth understanding — both from the perspective of when you are a searcher for information, and from the perspective of a site owner knowing that visitors may come from those other search engines.
And just in case you are tempted to think ‘hey, a search engine is a search engine – how different could they be?’ let’s take a deeper dive.
According to Comscore, the top 5 search engines according to volume of search and market share are: Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Ask and AOL. However, when you look underneath the hood, there are really just two big players: Microsoft’s Bing and Google — and a few smaller players. Let’s break them down further:
We all know the Google search engine, right? But did you know that Google actually has many search engines? For instance there’s a Google search engine just for books. There’s an image search engine that lets you put in the URL of the image or upload one from your computer, and find the same image across the Web (if you’re a photographer concerned about people ripping off your images, the image search engine may become your next best friend). There’s a full-text U.S. patent search.
For site owners, Google offers a Webmaster Tools dashboard to help you keep tabs on any problems with your site in the Google index. For instance, it can tell you if malware has been detected. And don’t forget to check out Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (PDF) so you can make the most of traffic from Google to your site.
Matt Cutts is the head of the Google Web spam team and he regularly gives information to the community about Google’s search practices. In many ways he is the public face of Google’s search outreach. His videos are particularly useful and for the most part understandable by small business owners. You can find them at the Google Webmaster channel on YouTube.
Bing, a search engine from Microsoft, is the largest and most well established after Google. Yahoo, the original search giant from the 1990s, is also “powered by Bing” search results as of 2011. (Therefore, for our purposes, Yahoo will be lumped in with Bing.) According to Comscore, Bing and Yahoo together accounted for 5.1 Billion searches in February 2012 — or 29% of the market. Bing has been growing steadily over the past few years. Bing emphasizes that it provides answers, not search results. Many people may find the distinction difficult to grasp, however.
Bing.com has a stunning visual interface (a great big background image that changes daily greets you on the home page — it’s interactive, too):
Like Google, Bing offers a Webmaster Toolbox that gives valuable information about your website, including crawl errors. There’s also a Bing Webmaster Center blog written by Duane Forrester, a Bing Senior Product Manager, that’s pretty understandable and useful for small business owners and managers. There’s also this Getting Started checklist.
Ask.com includes a search engine and also has a human-powered question and answer feature. A couple of years ago Ask.com stopped investing in its own search technology, and although it’s a bit of mystery whose search results Ask uses, most observers say Google. Since then Ask has been declining — albeit very slowly — in market share. It’s now at about 3% market share, with roughly half a billion searches each month.
AOL‘s search constitutes a little over 1.5% of the market. It appears to be using Google’s search technology. So once again, we’re back to Google.
Thus, as you can see, Google and Bing together make up most of the market share. So, what are the others? All are relatively small (but Google once was small, too). Let’s take a look at a few of them:
Duck Duck Go
Duck Duck Go is a startup search engine is competing by leveraging the public’s recent concern over Google’s privacy policies. According to Fred Wilson, a principal of Union Square Ventures, a venture capital backer of Duck Duck Go, other vendors should do the same, saying “We should encourage web and mobile services to lead with their privacy practices and let users vote with their feet. This is an opportunity for new web services who can use privacy as a basis for competition as Duck Duck Go does.” Duck Duck Go says it does not collect or share browsing history, and it articulates understandable privacy policies, including one that is illustrated and starts with this image:
DuckDuckGo.com is still tiny compared to the top four, at roughly 45 million searches per month. But it is growing rapidly in recent months as concern over Google’s privacy policies have grown. Here is the Duck Duck Go traffic chart:
Blekko is a search engine launched in late 2010 that emphasizes quality of search results, over quantity. Blekko says it excludes sites from its index that are low quality or designed “solely to game search engines.”
Blekko uses human feedback from users, who tag pages so that returned results include only quality content that is spam free. Most users will jump for joy at the absence of most scraper sites. However, Blekko’s human-system tends to exclude or give a low rank to results that others consider relevant and useful, particularly on topics its users may not be all that familiar with. (For instance, on small business topics its results may be overly restrictive — and less useful than Google or Bing.)
But they get high marks for having a comparison engine where you can compare Google, Bing and Blekko results for particular keywords. Blekko also gives a lot of SEO data about sites (not just your own).
In September of 2011 Blekko closed a $30 Million funding round with Yandex, the leading Russian search engine, as an investor.
This is a search engine that claims to be anonymous and uncensored. Actual queries are handled by a modified Google algorithm, but the company says results are not targeted or filtered, and that tracking is limited. For those especially concerned about privacy, you might want to give Gibiru a whirl.
If you play the odds as a website owner, you’ll place most of your attention on Google, and then Bing. Invest some effort to make sure your site does as well as possible in both. Remember, search engine optimization is a marathon, not a sprint – so look to be in it for the long haul.
As a searcher, if privacy is a big concern, or the absence of spam results is important, you may wish to check out Duck Duck Go, Blekko or Gibiru.