The search engine market is dominated by three large companies: Google, Bing, and Yahoo. This article is an overview of the differences between these three search engines in terms of market share, features, and user experience. It will briefly touch upon the history of each company before comparing the current state of play.
It’s important to remember that, while Google, Bing, and Yahoo all offer fundamentally the same search experience, they all have different ways of measuring query performance. The figure below, taken from Statista, illustrates how Google’s organic search traffic has grown dramatically over the years.
As the world’s largest search engine, Google has an obvious weighting in terms of search volume. However, that doesn’t mean they are the clear market leader. The segmented markets research team at Search Engine Land determine that across the whole industry, Bing is the clear market leader in terms of searches, receiving about 18.8% of all queries compared to Google’s 17.3% and Yahoo’s 17% combined.
Amongst the three search engines, Google is the only one that offers an image search feature. This has allowed the company to dominate the image-based search market, which made up 17% of all searches in 2019. To improve their position in the market, Bing and Yahoo have both developed their own imaging products.
Whilst there are some minor differences between the three, generally speaking, they all provide the same basic search functionality. However, in areas such as voice search, which launched several years ago with Google Now but became a significant aspect of mobile searching with the rise of Siri and other voice-activated digital assistants, Bing and Yahoo have both developed their own voice-based search products. In areas where the platforms are similar, such as text searching and web page displaying, the main differences come down to which data centers the companies’ search engines are powered by and the aesthetic design of the platforms.
Google’s search engine is, for the most part, only accessible by people using a Google product (e.g., Google Chrome, Android phone, or tablet) or a third-party app that has integrated with the Google Search Console. Whilst similar, the Bing and Yahoo search user experiences are a bit more open-ended. People using these platforms should not experience any differences when searching for products or services compared to those using Google.
Whilst all three search engines provide a very similar user experience, those using Bing and Yahoo can also access their services via third-party apps or the web.
The Evolution Of Search Engines
All search engines started out life as text-based directories. The earliest search engines were actually programs written in HTML, the language used to build Web sites, and displayed a directory of documents, called a ‘cache’, that matched the user’s search terms. The cache would be updated as soon as a new document was added or changed on the Web site.
Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon for Web sites to have a link to directory or a search engine at the bottom of the page. If someone clicked on that link, the browser would directly visit the search engine’s homepage to perform the search.
The good thing about this method is that it’s easy to set up. However, it also meant that if the user didn’t have a working Internet connection when they clicked the link, the whole process would have to begin again when they got a connection. The better approach today is to integrate a search engine into an app or website so that the search takes place as soon as the user performs an action, such as signing up for a service or sharing a product via social media.
In the early 2000s, as the Web began to expand its reach beyond the desktop, a new type of search engine emerged. Instead of just providing a list of links to documents, these platforms began analyzing the text that made up those documents and returning a ranked list of matching results above the fold on the webpage.
Thanks to improvements in natural language processing and machine learning, it is now possible to create AI-based searches that understand the context of the query and can extract precise meanings from text, rather than just matching keywords.
This is obviously a very beneficial feature when searching for a specific product or service because the results will automatically be relevant. For example, if a consumer is searching for a vacation package to Spain, a travel agent website could integrate Google, Bing, and Yahoo to fetch results based upon the content of those results rather than just matching keywords.
The three largest search engines are known for their intelligent design. For example, if someone searches for ‘Paris’, the city’s name will automatically populate the ‘City’ box, and the search engine will begin to return results based upon the user’s intended destination. Similarly, if someone were to search for ‘Vacation package’, the words ‘vacation’ and ‘package’ will each put a checkmark in the associated boxes, and the search engine will begin to consider the requested vacation type (e.g., beach, city, etc.) as well as the country the user wants to visit.
The combination of intelligent keywords and results ranked based upon the full meaning of a phrase makes for a much more natural and relevant search experience. Unfortunately, due to different methods of measuring search engine performance, it’s difficult to directly compare the strength of these three brands.
However, as a general rule, the larger the company, the more weight it will have in terms of market share. Google, with its vast resources and developed products, currently has the edge. But, as the saying goes, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”. If one of these companies were to suddenly disappear, it would be a major blow to the overall search engine market.