THE BLOG

Will Google Still Be the King of Search By 2020?

15/12/2014 05:18 GMT | Updated 11/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Google's offering is so much more than simply search now that the prospect of them suddenly losing everything is minimal, if not nearly impossible.

It is however not inconceivable that they could begin to lose their market share in search over the next five years due to a variety of factors. There are plenty of internet horror stories already of big companies with big market shares losing it all - admittedly none as big as Google is now - but the precedent is there.

So let's take a look at some of the factors that could contribute to a Google downfall in search over the coming years, and then the factors that indicate they'll be here for a long time yet.

On the Decline

Google's declining market share - blip or trend?

Google has actually already seen a decline in its global search engine market share over the last few months, mainly attributable to the Firefox browser's move away from Google to Yahoo (Bing) as its default search engine. Some sources record the drop in market share to be as large as 5%.

Whether or not this is just a 'blip' is up for debate. Similar moves from other companies in the past have resulted in an instant drop for Google that gently recovers over a period of months.

The difference with Firefox however is the scale of the move away. Firefox is the second most popular browser in the world, with a 16.4% global market share. With studies proving most users don't change their default search engine in browsers, the likelihood that Google will recover all of this drop is minimal.

Another company that currently has a contract with Google as its default search engine is also considering a move away as the contract draws to a close. That company is a certain Apple inc, that currently has an 11% share of mobile, 26% share of tablet and 18% share of desktop OS markets.

If, as many analysts are suggesting, Apple does decide to sever ties with Google for search, the ramifications would be unprecedented. It would leave Google with only their own devices and OSs, the Opera browser and a handful of other small browsers and OSs using the Google search engine as default. This decision could be the defining factor in whether or not Google search will remain king over the next five years.

The Pretenders

It's all well and good suggesting Google may not dominate search going forward, but that will require another search engine taking a much larger share than even every non-Google search engine combined currently possess. That is no mean feat, so are any up to the task?

Bing

The obvious alternative and the one Firefox chose to replace Google (yes, it's technically Yahoo, but the results are powered by Bing).

Slowly taking more and more of a share of the market since its 2009 inception, Bing is essentially a Google clone, modelled almost exactly on its '10 blue links' image.

That is not to say that it couldn't be the competitor that finally strips Google of its crown but arguably, the only way Google would finally be conquered is if it didn't adapt to a radically changed search market.

And if that happened to Google, you can bet it would almost certainly happen to Bing too.

Duck Duck Go

A search engine few had even heard of a couple of years ago (and many still haven't even now) but one which has a niche advantage over some of the more established players.

In the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA, many users became increasingly wary of big-tech companies like Google collecting personal data that could well be abused.

As a result, Duck Duck Go, a search engine that prided itself on its non-collection of data and minimal ads saw its market share rocket (relatively speaking) with an average of 4.3 million searches conducted on its site each day, up from 1.7 million prior to Snowden's whistleblowing.

Google's response was to come out and suggest that sites adopt the 'more secure' HTTPS rather than simply HTTP, but as many have suggested, this was much more of a PR move than a culture shift. HTTPS is more secure than HTTP but still easily hackable.

In reality, many users see convenience as a worthwhile price to pay for eroding privacy, even in light of the Snowden revelations, and so the chances of Duck Duck Go ever taking Google's mantle is minimal.

They have however 'disrupted' the industry, to use a rather trite industry buzzword, and I would predict that their influence will be felt in search for years to come - but just not as much as Google's.

Apple or Facebook

In terms of popular tech, Google has become a giant, and so perhaps its rightful competitors now come less from the search engine industry and more from the other technology behemoths that have come to define the first decades of the new millennium: Apple and Facebook. They already compete with Google in a number of other verticals, and though it has at various points in the last decade been denied by all parties, search could be the next battlefield.

Very recently, various search industry bods noticed that Apple had started crawling the web. Now, this by no means indicates that they'll be rolling out a Google search competitor any time soon, but any activity which results in an indexation of pages on any large scale is noteworthy. It may simply be they want to improve Siri results, or it may be that 2015 will be the year we see iSearch.

Less speculatively, Facebook has already positioned itself in the search market of sorts. It's Graph Search release last year gave glimpses as to what a fully-fledged social search product could be like.

It would appear to be an ongoing project, and there's certainly the possibility that it will eventually be positioned in a slightly different arena to Google - you search Facebook if you want to find an event in your local town, you search Google to find out what year the event was first created, for example - but the very fact that even this is a possibility could cause ripples.

In reality, it may only be a company of the ilk of Facebook or Apple that could realistically challenge Google in search.

Not on the decline

As mentioned, Google is far more than simply a search engine, but in it is in fact this that makes them the most likely to take search forward in the coming years.

Here are some of the reasons that Google may be here for a long time yet.

Mobile Market

2014 was the first year mobile usage exceeded desktop. Tablet use has also grown, meaning that the way people search, and what they search for, is very different to the way it was even five years ago.

With its Android platform, Google has the market share of mobile devices sold worldwide and as the default search engine on these devices, it means Google search has already managed to bridge the gap between desktop and mobile in a way other search engines are only just beginning to.

Emerging Markets

By the end of 2015, it is predicted that there will 2.5billion smartphones in use worldwide, and by 2020, over 80% of households worldwide will have access to a smartphone, largely driven by adoption in emerging markets in East Asia, Africa and South America.

With over 80% set to be Android models, in the main due to their relative cheapness compared to Apple devices, that is a significant captive audience for Google products, including search.

There has also been talk of Google (and admittedly Facebook as well) providing free internet access to some of least developed areas of the world - with the proviso that it will be through their own customised portal.

Diversification and innovation of product

We've mentioned Google's ever-widening product net but it's not just new products that will keep Google dominant: the development of their existing products is just as important.

This is particularly evident in search, obviously Google's oldest product. With constant updates and algorithm tweaks, Google's search results are becoming better all the time. Their integration of new features (the knowledge graph, cards etc.) combined with updates intended to provide more relevant, timely and appropriate results means that users, often without consciously thinking about it, continue to stick with Google search.

To put it simply - it is, for most users, the best search engine available.

Factor in Chrome, Chromecast, driverless cars, Glass, Fiber and more, and you have a network of products all geared towards tying people into the search product -the biggest earner for Google because of the ad revenue it generates.

Whatever happens, Google will still be around in 2020. Whether it's still the leader in search by then is questionable (clearly), but ultimately, if it continues with the current programs in place, it's hard to see it ever being knocked off its perch, let alone in the next five years.