For two decades, Google has dominated the search engines and remains the top one today. A whole ecosystem of businesses grew up around Google, much like they did around Apple hardware. SEO/SEM consultancies (many legitimate, many not.) New styles of writing and businesses figuring out how to game the engine. Every time Google made a slight tweak to their algorithms (that they let us know about), the SEO industry went into a tizzy. Remember Page Rank?
But as I show below, there are things consumers are tired of when it comes to search engines. And some new entrants are finally bringing some innovation. It will be interesting to see if Google reacts.
The function of “search” is something we humans do as a very basal act, every single day. It’s a core part of our survival traits in the real world. When we get up in the morning the first thing we do is search our surroundings for information such as the weather, termperature and of course, the tea pot. Or coffee pot. Search is also fundamental to our digital lives, from using search engines to finding documents and other content at work.
The search engine world has been relatively stable with minimal innovation over the past decade or more. This is starting to change, however. I recently did some research using netnographic methods across several consumer forums, not search engine professionals. I wanted to understand what average consumers thought. The findings were not entirely surprising but follow as to why change is happening. For Google to remain dominant however, it will have to seriously look at its business model.
Below is a chart showing what consumers generally don’t like about search engines and about 80% of the comments are directed at Google and Bing.
The sample size here is fairly small at n=800 people commenting in Reddit and other forums. All data collected is publicly available. No private groups were reviewed. No individual identifying information was collected either to respect privacy.
Privacy: No surprise here and it’s a big issue with most every consumer and growing louder. Consumers are increasingly aware that they are the product and this is why Big Tech is seeing the baleful eye of governments around the world looking at them.
Advertising: This in part ties into privacy where consumers feel increasingly uneasy about what is collected on them. They also feel that there’s too much advertising and that the first page of search results is more about advertising than results.
Results: There is growing distrust of the quality of results and it ties into the business issue where consumers find it increasingly harder to get to non-marketing content. They feel that engines like Google and Bing are more about business content than anything else.
Geography: While many like the hyper-localisation in Google and Bing and the ease of finding a local business, they also want broader geographical results or find it hard to break away from hyper-local results. For Google and Bing, this is a double-edged sword.
Business: Consumers are increasingly turning away from search engines to other known sources of information such as Wikipedia, IMDB or WebMD because they feel there’s too much business content and businesses are gaming the search engines too much. Consumers are starting to look for alternatives to Google and Bing.
Fortunately, we are starting to see some new entrants and different business models. DuckDuckGo is very privacy oriented, they are ad supported, but ads aren’t targeted at your personal data, they’re based on search terms. No personal data is collected. They’re profitable. Then there’s Neeva, which is a subscription-based model between $5-$10/month. They claim to have 50,000 subscribers. I’m at least one of them.
For my own searches, I use both DuckDuckGo and Neeva. I’ll tend to use Google for local businesses, such as hours and contact information, but find much greater relevant results on the other engines. They’re innovating. They’re also respecting privacy, which is likely to become a key marketing pitch. For Google, privacy is hard because their entire business model is based on knowing more about you than you do yourself.
A new era of search engines is picking up speed and we can expect to see some significant changes. Google will likely dominate for a few more years, but unless they truly look to innovate, their market share will slowly erode. Microsoft completely missed the mobile revolution, Google might miss the privacy and non-ad driven revolution.
Discover More: Check out this article on if your business added too many apps during the pandemic.