As US commentators mused last week over signs that Microsoft’s Bing might at last be gaining some ground on Google stateside, as far as the UK is concerned the world’s most powerful web middleman is going from strength to strength.
A sign of unhealthy market dominance or a case of worrying about the wrong thing?
According to comScore (only one of several firms measuring these things), Google’s US numbers are now 64.4 percent with Bing rising a tick to 20.1 percent on the back of a search deal with Yahoo which, once combined, means the latter two might now own a third of US search.
In contrast Google’s global dominance remains a crushing 87 percent mark. Meanwhile, a second analytics firm recently measured the March 2015 UK market-share as 88.12 percent for Google, 7.09 percent for Bing, 3.61 percent for Yahoo, with ‘others’ at around one percent.
Normally barely anyone pays much attention to monthly search engine figures but this was the week the EU finally launched its historic anti-trust action against Google so everything the latter does – and dominates – is suddenly of intense fascination.
Yahoo’s decent US showing against Google, and poor UK one, has its roots in history and the fact that Yahoo entrenched itself in US Internet culture at a time when both firms were much smaller. It never gained the same popularity in the UK, or in most countries outside the US in the way that Google did. To this day Yahoo remains a noun while Google is more often a verb.
What this tells us is that the early era of Internet competition around the turn of the millennium largely defined the search world we now inhabit and shifting it will be nigh on impossible. Gallingly, Microsoft even had the dominant browser during this period which people fired up to do one thing – search for things using Google search.
It probably didn’t help that Bing and Yahoo did a poor job in the UK with initiatives such as local listings, the one area Google could have been overhauled. By the time Android rose to dominance, it was too late, another legacy of Steve Ballmer’s decision to let Windows Mobile go to seed.
As the EU case acknowledges, it’s not the medium people use to search that necessarily matters so much as what they are presented with when they do this. People are free to use Google as their default search engine in any browser just as they are free to sign up for Google’s many online services or buy Android smartphones that tie them even deeper in its web of the web.
It’s hard to argue that Google’s dominance of UK, Global and even US traffic search is inherently bad if people choose it for themselves over rival services. Google’s real power has to do with data, how people use this to generate information about the world, and how its algorithms define the way publishers create content to keep it happy. The problem as ever is that this is not something that can be measured.
Suggestions and feedback to [email protected] Twitter: @JohnEDunn