Looks like a farcical question, isn’t it? But if you look at the history of search, you will realize that it has changed dramatically over the years. So much so that its future shape and structure if not its very existence remains in doubt.
Online search began in earnest during the mid-nineteen nineties. It was an interesting phase. No one took search seriously.In fact, connections were slow and penetration of internet was low. It is impossible to imagine today that there were several search companies during those days. Infoseek, Northern Light, AltaVista, Yahoo, Magellan, Lycos and Excite were among the top. Microsoft launchedits own version of search in 1998, MSN search, using Inktomi search engine.
The initial search engines were actually simple algorithms which counted the number of keywords on a web page. As a result, website owners started packing their content only with keywords. The term ‘keyword stuffing’ originated from this practice. The funny part is that whatever keywords you used, the search results always pointed to a porn site. SEO specialists had a gala time, churning out web pages with maximum number of keywords. The whole thing became a sort of joke. No one knew how to make money out of search and therefore it remained an unprofitable service.
In 1998, Google came out of its own version of search. Initially, no one took it seriously, more because the name Google seemed a bit frivolous. “Hey, what’s Google?” used to be the refrain. But when Google started spewing relevant search results, people started taking notice and a new era of search emerged.
With the arrival of Google in the scene, search became a serious business. Slowly but surely Google became a reliable search tool. The first step in providing relevant search results was the systematic weeding out of keyword stuffing. Many websites were blacklisted by Google in order to sanitize search. Google took search seriously as against others who were simply providing another tool to users.
Terms like keyword density, website reputation and content began making their appearance. Google on its part kept their search algorithm a secret, making sure that manipulators did not cheat the search engine. By 2010, Google had a major share of the search market. Google had become a household name. There was one more reason why Google became popular – they learnt how to monetize search. With their AdWords and AdSense campaigns they became an intrinsic part of the internet. Even small websites and blogs could make money using AdSense. The advertisers benefited because they could seed their website throughout the internet. Pay per click became a popular term with advertisers. It would therefore be correct to say that Google revolutionized search.
Google did not rest on its laurels but kept refining its search algorithm. Two main modifications worth mentioning are Panda and Penguin updates to Google search. Combined they managed to wipe out paid web directories and those who tried to manipulate search results. There was a hue and cry because some genuine players lost their search ranking overnight. Overall, the changes were largely accepted. Anyway there was no option. This is one of the dangers of a monopoly – Google has started acting like a bully.
According to comScore search market report of August 2014, Google search led the pack with 67.3 percent market share, followed by Bing with 19.4 percent and Yahoo! with 10 percent. Obviously Google is leader of the pack in US. It is also a frontrunner in United Kingdom and Canada. However, there is misconception which needs to be cleared. Google is not the most popular search engine in many countries. In China, which has huge internet audience, Baidu leads with 62% market share. In Japan, Yahoo picks up 50% of search traffic while Google takes second place with 42%. In South Korea, Naver, a local search provider, manages 72% of search traffic.
There can be no doubt that search engines have a tendency to be biased due to the algorithm used. Google has lately started providing customized search results based on the users past search history and location. This has serious implications. For example, if you are from New York area, you are likely to find results which are related to the locality. This compulsorily restricts search results which may not be your requirement. A couple of years back, there was uproar because Google showed one of the corporates at the top of organic search results because purportedly they were one the large customers of Google AdWords. Google quickly removed this particular bias but the damage was done. Search professionals believe that AdWords membership is a weighed factor in Google organic search algorithm.
There are other search engines based on different criteria. Quora uses a question based search engine where answers are provided by users themselves. Wikipedia, Wikihow and Wikimedia are different flavors of search used extensively. In fact, Google is attempting to convert the whole of internet into a knowledge base with its emphasis on content. This has already been achieved through Wikipedia.
Religion based search engines have lately made a strong entry. A major issue with religion based search engines is the paucity of funds and restricted audience.
Google, as we can clearly see is at top of the heap. However regional and linguistic search engines are fast picking up slack. Bing and Yahoo search are finding new ways to gather steam. Yahoo has teamed up with Mozilla Firefox to be their primary search engine, usurping Google. This move itself would result in attracting a big portion of search market to Yahoo.
Many experts believe that Google has become monopolistic and a bully. History has always reminded us that it does not take time for mighty empires to crumble. Remember David and Goliath? Will Google’s bullying lead to its end? Only time will tell. But for now, Google rules the roost.