When it comes to search Google is the 600 pound gorilla in the room. They are a dominant force that either outsmarts or bulls their way through the competition, all while continuing to grow their empire year after year.
In October of 2012, Google hit a personal record of search market share versus their competition, accounting for 66.9% of searches done, while their next closest competitor, Bing also so a rise to 16%. None of this takes into account the growing mobile search platform that Google is currently dominating, with more than 90% of mobile searches using Google.
So with such a large chunk of the market, is there any chance that Google could falter, stumble, or fail? Is there a company that could challenge Google’s dominance in the search arena and push them off their throne?
How Google Could Fail
Google has numerous competitors, but to date no one has been able to compete with their search engine, maps software, and email software. What then could pose a threat to Google’s dominance? Aside from a categorical shift in technology, the biggest threat to Google’s dominance is a changing of online privacy laws.
With users more and more concerned (rightly so) with their online privacy, Google has been scrutinized for their online tracking of everything a user does, prompting articles about living Google-free.
While Google tracks your movement through their eco-system and passes some of that information along to advertisers and webmasters, new search engines such as DuckDuckGo have committed themselves to not tracking, even going to so far as to take out a billboard saying as much, something that makes them appealing to those with concerns about their online privacy and insulates them against changes to privacy laws that could negatively impact Google’s business.
In addition to privacy laws offering a potential chink in Google’s armor, their claim to always providing the most relevant search results is slowly coming under attack. For years Google has offered the most relevant results for searches thanks to their superior algorithm. Unfortunately, since Google is the 600 pound gorilla, that makes them a prime target for unscrupulous attempts to manipulate their algorithm to show websites that aren’t relevant or of the highest quality.
Given how dependent on search results we’ve become, we expect our search engine of choice to give us the best results possible, meaning a trend of decreasingly relevant search results opens Google up to losing market share to search engines that provide more relevant results on a consistent basis through a strong algorithm that isn’t being manipulated.
The only other thing that could topple Google is, well, Google. How exactly that could come to pass is anybody’s guess, but anything from poor PR, to major privacy violations, to a data hack where sensitive data is released, to a series of bad investments that costs them their considerable money; an of these could lead to them losing their place as the dominant search engine on the web.
Whether it’s changing rules, Google themselves, or the rise of the next great search company, there are limited ways in which Google could be toppled from their place atop the internet. There are, however, numerous reasons they aren’t likely to lose their place there.
Why Google Won’t Fail
Let’s be honest, the road is littered with those that thought they could take on Google and have failed. AltaVista, InfoSeek, Lycos, Excite, Ask Jeeves, Bing (although still a contender), Yahoo, and more have tried to take over Google’s dominance and have failed. Why is that?
Google’s biggest asset, and the thing that’s made them nearly ubiquitous within the world of search (nobody does a web search, they “Google” it), is their ever-evolving algorithm. Users know that when they’re searching within Google they’re going to get the most relevant results, which is why they continue using it.
Not only is Google’s algorithm geared towards giving the most relevant results, but they constantly update it to weed out any sites that are trying to abuse their system and push themselves up the rankings without actually being relevant for the terms they’re targeting. Updates like Panda and Penguin have targeted just those types of sites and have helped Google maintain their hold on their market majority of searches.
In addition to search, Google has also had some other great successes including GMail (the most popular online email service), YouTube (the most popular online video service), Chrome (the most widely used web browser), and Android (the most widely used mobile OS). All of these services are free to the user, which has helped increase their popularity and adoption, all while being supported by ads that make Google money. How much money?
Depending on how you want to look at it Google is in possession of roughly $38 Billion (revenue for 2011) or $72.5 Billion (assets as of 2011). That means they have the assets to acquire top talent and purchase up and coming companies that can add further value to Google. That’s not to say they’re impervious (look at Microsoft’s decline), but they are insulated and have done a good job of not putting all of their eggs in one basket while always looking to what the next thing could be.
A World Without Google?
Will Google ever falter to a better search engine? While possible, it’s not likely. Google’s ability to attract and retain top talent and their vision for creating great products that are quickly adapted will make it a tall order for any company to overthrow them. However, increasing privacy concerns, the ever-fickle consumer, and the ability of small startups to innovate at lighting speed are all realities Google must pay attention to.