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What would it take for new search engines to succeed?

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Neeva and You.com seek to pick up segments of users overlooked by Google, and with shifting user preferences and increased governmental scrutiny, there might be an opportunity.

For over half of its 22-year history, Google has been the most prevalent search engine in the United States. Over that term, its perception has gone from quintessential Silicon Valley startup and underdog to the gatekeeper of the internet, presiding over algorithms that have massive business implications and developing a reputation for expanding its business into different sectors in the name of providing a better experience to its users.

More recently, increased scrutiny over its business practices has led government regulators to crack down on perceived improprieties and some users have shown a slight sway towards a more privacy-oriented search experience. Pushback has also come from other search engines, such as DuckDuckGo and Ecosia, which have been vocal critics of how Google is presenting search engine alternatives to Android users in the EU.

The groundswell of resistance to the market leader may create the right circumstances for alternative search engines to assert themselves. Founded by former Google ad boss Sridhar Ramaswamy, Neeva was announced in June, and You.com was announced this month by former Salesforce Chief Scientist Richard Socher. While taking a significant slice of search market share away from Google might be part of their overall goal, and what many marketers would like to see, success as a new search engine is contingent upon many factors and may come in a more modest form.

Regulators want to see more competition in search

Over the last few years, Google has been facing increased scrutiny over alleged anticompetitive practices both in the US and abroad. In 2018, it was penalized €4.3 billion (roughly $5 billion), the largest antitrust fine ever imposed by the European Commission (EC) — that’s on top of the €2.4 billion ($2.7 billion) fine it levied on Google the year before for favoring its own content in search results.

Last year, 48 state attorneys general joined in an antitrust investigation of the company. On the federal level, the Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit against Google in October, alleging that it uses contracts and its market power to neutralize rivals.

If Google is found to have engaged in anticompetitive tactics, the question then turns to remedies. A report issued by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust recommended a number of potential remedies, including “structural separation” to restore competition, but Google is projecting confidence and may take the fight to court.

If that happens, it could be two years before an initial judgment, and even then, the company may pursue an appeal. However, with scrutiny over the company’s dominant position coming to a head, potential competitors have been gradually coming out of the thicket and attempting to distinguish themselves from the market leader.

RELATED: Does the Google antitrust case make an Apple search engine more likely?

Can anyone actually go head-to-head with Google?

As Google exists today, creating a search engine that could meaningfully compete with it would necessitate “[Building] a product that shows results at least as relevant, useful, fast, and cognitively low-load as Google themselves, then build a brand that at least tens to hundreds of millions of people rapidly trust and prefer to Google,” according to Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SparkToro, adding that the latter half is a more realistic possibility due to Google’s “continuing tack away from ‘beloved startup’ and toward ‘evil empire’ over the last ~8 years.”

“To be honest, I don’t see how that will happen,” Eric Enge, principal at Perficient, told Search Engine Land, “Quality of search results has a lot to do with the data you have access to, and [the search engine] with the most data wins — I don’t see how anyone can catch Google in that regard.”

Fishkin shared a similar sentiment: “I don’t think, realistically, anyone can build a search engine close to Google’s quality without their years of data on what people searched for, clicked, and found valuable vs. not (via measuring things like bounces-back-to-the-SERPs, query modifications, regularly choosing result #8 over #1, etc). That’s Google’s real secret sauce — the ace no one can touch. Tragically, I don’t think many folks in search (including these two new companies [Neeva and You.com]) realize how impossible a hurdle that is to overcome.”

While the bar is high, these two potential rivals presumably believe there are areas of opportunity that Google has yet to claim, and have been able to attract investment towards that cause. As of June, 2020, Neeva had already raised $37.5 million and employed 25 individuals, and You.com is being backed by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and venture capitalist Jim Breyer. Funding, however, is unlikely to level the playing field — even with Microsoft’s massive resources, Bing has largely been unable to sway users or digital marketers away from Google.

Catching Google does not need to be the goal

Instead of building a search engine that could take Google head on, “the objective could be to build a strong cadre of users interested in building out their ‘own corner of the web,’” Enge said with regards to Neeva, adding that this strategy would not require billions of users to be a successful business.

DuckDuckGo employs a similar strategy to differentiate itself from others and appeal to privacy-minded users. In November 2020, the number of queries DuckDuckGo handles per month increased to an all-time high of nearly 2.4 billion. Nevertheless, it still only accounts for 2.3% search market share in the US, compared to Google’s 87.7%.

Search market share november 2020
DuckDuckGo claims 2.3% of the domestic search market and Bing accounts for 6.5%. Google’s share is 87.7%. Source: Statcounter.

Neeva’s subscription-based service, which will reportedly cost less than $10 per month when it launches, seeks to deliver a personalized yet ad-free experience. And, it may not have as many technological hurdles to overcome as it will leverage existing content and data sources, including Bing search results, Apple Maps, and weather.com. This may help Neeva save on its development budget coming out of the gate, and if it’s able to attract enough subscribers, the company aims to lower its monthly fee, which may make it a more attractive alternative for new users.

Although exact details haven’t been announced, the You.com website makes multiple references to helping users with their online purchasing decisions. The company’s early access survey also asks numerous questions related to e-commerce.

You.com survey
Many of the questions on You.com’s early access survey pertain to how users conduct e-commerce.

If You.com wants to be a player in the e-commerce space, it may also have to compete with Amazon. If it decides to challenge Amazon directly, then “the biggest challenges … are scale of operators, especially on the shipping+delivery side, then the two-sided marketplace-building challenge of growing potential customers and stores/sellers, and finally, luring enough investment to withstand the sustained price wars Amazon’s willing to engage in,” Fishkin said.

“So many people are wired to start their shopping with Amazon that it seems highly improbable that anyone will accomplish that,” said Enge, caveating that You.com could still build a strong user base through its differentiating features, such as a custom You.com URL with the user’s name to facilitate sharing.

Distinguishing itself in the e-commerce sector may be a more realistic path, as companies such as Etsy, eBay, Shopify and, to some extent, Google Shopping have been able to carve out their own niches in the space. “A site like You.com, if they do integrate in some level of e-commerce, only need to start producing millions of dollars of revenue to be off to a great start,” Enge reiterated, “While this is still a non-trivial accomplishment, it’s a lot simpler than trying to unseat Amazon.”

What success might look like for new search engines

The long-term viability of potential Google or Amazon competitors will partially depend on their ability to attract an initial audience, which is difficult to forecast at this point since neither Neeva or You.com have released more details or an expected launch date.

“In my opinion, no,” Fishkin said when asked about whether he thinks Neeva or You.com’s differentiating business models and features are enough to attract new users during their launch period. “If I were in their shoes, I’m not sure I’d announce my ‘secret sauce’ way of competing against the tech monopolies until after I launched — so hopefully they’ve got more up their sleeves,” he said. 

A component of the “secret sauce” may hinge on identifying users who have needs that Google isn’t currently addressing. “These users will likely still use Google quite a bit, but they might use Neeva or You.com for specific scenarios,” Enge said, “If these companies can maintain this level of focus they could have a chance of success.”

If these companies take traditional venture capital, success may look more familiar: “Becoming a unicorn with $1B+ returned in shareholder value,” Fishkin said, adding, “That could be through an acquisition, of course, but hopefully some of these folks would aim to actually compete long-term against Google.”

The potential impact on Google

The existence of more viable competitors provides marketers and users with more options, but it may also, to some extent, influence Google’s strategy. That may force Google to respond by catering more to the preferences of users and search professionals, which might improve the landscape for everyone.

“Certain specific innovations might spark new innovations, or adoption by, Google,” Enge said, noting that even a large degree of success for potential rivals would still represent small numbers for Google, and that the impact is unlikely to be evident in the near term. 

“Google’s never had a real competitor before, but when they had a perceived one (in Facebook), they took some fairly clumsy steps,” Fishkin said, referring to the company’s now-defunct social networking platform Google Plus, “So maybe we could hope that would happen again and give rise to an actual market for search instead of just a monopoly.”

Author: George Nguyen

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SEARCHENGINES

Daily Search Forum Recap: June 19, 2024

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Here is a recap of what happened in the search forums today, through the eyes of the Search Engine Roundtable and other search forums on the web.


Google posted its FAQs on AI Overviews, asking why you can’t disable then. Google may be showing fewer Reddit links. Google explains when it is not a good thing when Googlebot is crawling you more. Google is testing 6 people also ask by default. Google launched menu buttons in the Google Maps results. Google AdSense has a new privacy and messaging feature for privacy rules.


Search Engine Roundtable Stories:


  • Google AI Overviews FAQs Including Why You Can’t Disable AI Overviews


    Google has posted a new document in its forums named frequently asked questions about AI Overviews. In this document it has a section named “why can’t I disable AI Overviews?” The answer is that Google’s “goal is to help people find the information they’re looking for quickly and reliably.”

  • Report On If Google Showing Fewer Reddit Links In Search?


    Some in the SEO industry have been asking if Google has been showing fewer links in its search results to Reddit over the past several weeks. So Mordy Obserstein pulled some Semrush data that showed a slight downtick in Reddit results in Google’s Discussion and Forums section.

  • Google: Two Common Reasons When A Spike In Crawling Is Bad


    Google’s Gary Illyes posted on LinkedIn with two common examples of when a spike in Googlebot activity, crawling, is a bad thing. The short answer is when Googlebot gets to crawling an infinite section of your site (like calendar pages that goes on forever) and when your site is hacked with a ton of new hacked pages.

  • Google Tests Two More People Also Ask Results (6 PPA)


    Google is testing showing two more people also ask results, by default, which is a total of six people also ask, instead of the typical four people also ask that Google would show in its search results.



  • Google Local Panels Gains Menu Button


    Google seems to be adding a “menu” button to the Google Business Profiles, the local panels, in the web search results. I think Google has tested this one and off over the years, but as Marcin Karwowski noted, it seems to be rolling out now to some businesses.



  • New Google AdSense Privacy & Messaging For Users To Opt Out


    Google has begun rolling out a new privacy and messaging feature for AdSense ads in some US states. This is to comply with California, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia, and Utah privacy laws. The feature allows the site to communicate to the user about opting out of the sale or sharing of their personal information.



  • Google Japanese Circular Keyboard


    Here is a photo from Daniel Waisberg’s trip to the Google Japan office, and it shows these circular Japanese keyboards on display. There are other items on display.

Other Great Search Threads:

Search Engine Land Stories:

Other Great Search Stories:

Analytics

Industry & Business

Links & Content Marketing

Local & Maps

Mobile & Voice

SEO

PPC

Search Features

Other Search

Feedback:


Have feedback on this daily recap; let me know on Twitter @rustybrick or @seroundtable, on Threads, Mastodon and Bluesky and you can follow us on Facebook and on Google News and make sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or just contact us the old fashion way.



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SEARCHENGINES

Daily Search Forum Recap: June 18, 2024

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Here is a recap of what happened in the search forums today, through the eyes of the Search Engine Roundtable and other search forums on the web.


Google Search Console reports with # signs in them are not related to canonicalization in Google Search, it is related to Google Sitelinks. Bing Webmaster Tools can show clickthrough rates of over 100%, no joke. Google is testing black sitelinks. Google Maps added an edit and post button to the main buttons for Google Business Profiles. And no, Google Search does not always show the original source in its search results.


Search Engine Roundtable Stories:


  • Google: #s In Google Search Console Reports Are Unrelated To Canonicalization


    There is a lot of talk in the wider SEO community around pound signs, #, in the Google Search Console reports, meaning something about canonicalization. John Mueller from Google, along with a number of SEOs, said it has nothing to do with canonicalization. Instead, it has to do with Google tracking on-page sitelinks from the Google Search results.

  • Google: Our Search Results Do Not Always Show Original Source


    Google’s John Mueller said in the last SEO Google Office Hours video that Google’s “search results are not an indication of what Google’s systems consider to be the original source.” This means that just because Google ranks a piece of content, it does not necessarily mean that the content is the original source.



  • Bing Webmaster Tools Clickthrough Rate Over 100%


    Did you ever sort the Bing Webmaster Tools clickthrough-rate column from highest to lowest and notice that you can see a CTR higher than 100%, I even see 300%. Well, Fabrice Canel from Microsoft said this is possible when a searcher clicks on your listing more than once from the same search result set.


  • Google Maps Adds Edit & Post Button To Business Profile Listing


    Google has added an “edit” and “post” button more prominently as big buttons to Google Business Profiles within the Google Maps interface. Previously, these buttons were not as accessible in the Google Maps interface.

  • Google Search Tests Black Sitelinks


    Google is testing another variation of its sitelinks design, this one uses black font colors for the sitelinks. Of course, Google generally uses blue for those links, because links are generally in blue underlined font.



  • Google Japan Zashiki Seating


    Daniel Waisberg was at the Google Japan office and he snapped some photos, shared them on LinkedIn. Here is one of one of the cafe areas that has the Japanese floor seating, also called Zashiki /Tatami seating.

Other Great Search Threads:

Search Engine Land Stories:

Other Great Search Stories:

Analytics

Industry & Business

Links & Content Marketing

Local & Maps

Mobile & Voice

SEO

PPC

Search Features

Other Search

Feedback:


Have feedback on this daily recap; let me know on Twitter @rustybrick or @seroundtable, on Threads, Mastodon and Bluesky and you can follow us on Facebook and on Google News and make sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or just contact us the old fashion way.



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Daily Search Forum Recap: June 17, 2024

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Here is a recap of what happened in the search forums today, through the eyes of the Search Engine Roundtable and other search forums on the web.


We had another possible Google search ranking update this weekend. Google Ads is forcing some advertisers off credit card payments. Apple updated its Applebot documentation in a big way. Google Maps updated its fake engagement policy. Google updated its hreflang documentation. Google Ads now allows for some opioid painkiller ads. And a special piece from Glenn Gabe on tracking AI Overviews in Google Search Console – well, kinda.


Search Engine Roundtable Stories:


  • Google Father’s Day Weekend Search Ranking Volatility


    Happy Father’s Day – it looks like we are seeing some pretty significant ranking fluctuations and volatility within the Google Search results over the past day or so. Yep, yet another big Google weekend update of sorts – of course – not confirmed by Google.

  • The Maddening Adventure Of Tracking AI Overviews In Google Search Console




    Google launched AI overviews in the SERPs in the United States officially on May 14th at I/O. This follows the launch of Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) in May of 2023…



  • Google Ads Forcing Some Advertisers Off Credit Card Payments


    Google Ads is forcing many of its advertisers off the credit card option for paying for their ad accounts and onto bank-based payment methods, such as ACH, wire, or paper check. If you do not comply by July 31, 2024, your account can be suspended.



  • Apple Updates Applebot Docs With Applebot-Extended, Reverse DNS & More


    Apple has made some really big changes to the Applebot documentation after the Apple WWDC event, where Apple announced Apple Intelligence. Apple added more about Applebot, reverse DNS details, Applebot-Extended and much more.



  • Google Maps Updates Fake Engagement Policy With More Detail


    Google has updated its Google Maps contributor fake engagement policy to flesh out in more detail how the policy works. The new text is like 40% longer and seems to have received a nice refresh.



  • Google Updates hreflang Documentation While I Was Offline


    Google has tweaked its hreflang search developer documentation to clarify that link tags for denoting alternate versions of a page must not be combined in a single link tag. Google said it wanted to document this “quirk” in its documentation.



  • Google Now Allow Some Opioid Painkillers Ads


    Google Ads will update its Healthcare and medicines policy this month to allow advertisers to discuss opioid painkillers without promoting or selling them. The example given is that you can have ads to discuss public policy solutions for opioid painkiller abuse.



  • Googler In Training Jacket


    Here is Mike Ryan’s kid wearing a Googler in Training red rain / wind jacket. He posted about the Google merch a year ago and I guess now his kid is old enough to wear it and shared this photo of his kid wearing it.

Other Great Search Threads:

Search Engine Land Stories:

Other Great Search Stories:

Analytics

Industry & Business

Links & Content Marketing

Local & Maps

Mobile & Voice

SEO

PPC

Search Features

Other Search

Feedback:


Have feedback on this daily recap; let me know on Twitter @rustybrick or @seroundtable, on Threads, Mastodon and Bluesky and you can follow us on Facebook and on Google News and make sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or just contact us the old fashion way.



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