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The Big 3

There’s big, if not relatively unsurprising news in the land of search marketing today, an industry known for the three players that dominate the field.

For years, Google, Yahoo!, and MSN battled for market share, advertising dollars, and brand loyalty. While Google gained speed largely due to ongoing innovation and a healthy dose of fearlessness, some of its success may be attributed to MSN and Yahoo!’s love of lagging behind.

You can read more about the history of the big 3 search engines here: http://www.searchenginehistory.com/. Let’s fast forward to September 15, 2010 and the big news.

Nielsen reported today that Microsoft’s relatively immature “decision-engine” Bing has surpassed Yahoo! In standing.

Is anyone surprised? Hard to say. It’s not so much surprise when you consider Yahoo!’s struggles to get just about anything right and the money Microsoft has poured into Bing…but I’m scratching just the surface.

The real reason behind Yahoo!’s decline may be complex. Still, if you believe that where there is smoke, there is fire, perhaps it isn’t necessary to analyze what seems obvious: Yahoo! hasn’t been able to keep up with the market and has grown less relevant over time.

Here is a graphic from Nielsen that shows growth and decline of the big 3 in recent months:

Top U.S. Search Sites – August 2010

Rank

Brand

Share of Searches

MoM change %

YoY change %

1

Google Search

65.1%

1%

1%

2

MSN/Windows Live/Bing Search

13.9%

2%

30%

3

Yahoo! Search

13.1%

-8%

-18%

4

Ask.com Search

2.1%

0%

24%

5

AOL Search

2.0%

0%

-37%

Source: The Nielsen Company

Confused? For some, the fuzzy memory of a Microsoft/Yahoo! Merger may confuse the significance of Yahoo!’s official decline as a search engine of choice, and the memory is true – the two companies brokered a search deal in the summer of 2009. But as the Internet and search exerts more relevance in our lives, the knotty question of who is competing with whom becomes less important. I don’t care who’s pockets are getting fatter as I search and click and buy; I want to know who keeps my data and for what purpose, and whether I’m going to regret any of this later.

Despite the sad news for Yahoo!, Bing’s parent made other headlines today for its pending deals with Nokia and Facebook.

Whether Microsoft gains market share from Google/Apple and Google, respectively, by leveraging relationships with Nokia and Facebook remains to be seen – but it’s nice to know they are trying. While no one can deny Microsoft’s products and services tend to lag behind competitors in user-friendliness and innovation, it’s comforting to see Microsoft gaining ground, if only to make sure Google can’t have its maybe-monopoly (and eat it, too) without breaking a well-deserved sweat.

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