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Stephen Logan

Is there Room for More Search Engines?

25th May 2010 News, Industry News 4 minutes to read

As Russian search giant Yandex launches an English site, we look at whether there is actually room for new search engines to compete with YaBing and Google.

Last week Russian Search engine Yandex announced that they were releasing an English version of their service, allowing global visitors (or those who don’t understand the Cyrillic alphabet) to access the search site [see: Yandex Launches Foreign-Language Search Engine | The Moscow Times]. Whilst they aren’t actively marketing this extension of their current output, it does make you wonder what the maximum capacity for search engines is.

Have we reached search engine saturation? Have Google, Yahoo and Bing cornered the Western market to such an extent that new competitors can barely get a look in? Could invaders from the east, including Yandex and Baidu make their stamp globally?

The search engine market remains extremely competitive. Offering the opportunity for untold riches, new search engines are being developed with surprising regularity. The only issue though is that few ever make it beyond the initial buzz.

Cuil and the ‘Google Killers’

Take Cuil as a good example. Built by former Google employees, it was developed to challenge the hierarchy and offer something new [see: Cuil Search Engine]. At least that was how it was marketed. Impressive initial visitor levels soon petered out and now the site commands an Alexa traffic rank of just 11,300.

Cuil, arguably at least, showed just how limited opportunities for new search engines were. Whilst they continue to get decent levels of traffic, it is still only a tiny fraction of what the major engines achieve. Perhaps what they offered wasn’t original enough, maybe the results just aren’t good enough.

Other upstarts like LeapFish (Alexa traffic rank: 9,744) and Yebol (Alexa traffic rank: 150,668) have also struggled to make the impact they may have perhaps hoped [see: Yebol Heralds the Dawn of Semantic Search]. Bing, Yahoo and of course Google have a stranglehold on the market with others barely able to make a dent. Even the next level of search engines like AOL (Alexa traffic rank for .com site: 46) and Ask.com (Alexa traffic rank: 58) are a significant way behind the big three in terms of search volume [see: Search Engine Market Share Statistics – May 2010]. So where exactly can Yandex and other potential competitors find the room to claim their stake?

Carving Out a Niche in a Saturated Market

Of course it should be noted that different countries have their own search engines and popularity of the major three can certainly vary wildly. Google’s controlling stake though is imperious. They may have had issues cracking Russia and, more particularly China [see: Google Readying China Withdrawal], but their global majority is still huge (as are their profits of course).

With the level of market dominance, financial clout and, equally importantly, brand awareness YaBing and Google possess, usurping their position could take something special indeed. But as with Yandex, perhaps this isn’t the intention of many search engine upstarts.

By offering something slightly different they can carve out a niche. Whilst invariably the owners would want this to grow, the continuous stream of upstarts and diversifying foreign search engines suggests that opportunities still remain. But are the niches now running out too?

Innovating to Conquer

Where else can search engines go without incorporating some kind of full-blown semantic option? Could an upstart really hope to take on Google or even YaBing for that matter? And, inviting a little audience participation, where do you see a gap in the market that could be exploited. For example, could Facebook use their user-inputted data (the ‘like’ button being a good example) to create a more personal search option?

Personally speaking, I think that the ball is still firmly in the court of the big guns. Even if someone were to develop a new form of search, the financial strength of Google and Microsoft would make direct competition difficult and the likelihood of being incorporated into one or the other more likely. Take Wolfram Alpha as a good example.

Whilst not strictly a search engine per se, Wolfram Alpha did offer a new way of researching facts and figures. Now you can find their statistics within Bing results thanks to a licensing deal at the tail end of last year [see: Bing to Ring the Changes]. Create a new product, market it, get a bit of publicity, sign-up for a tie-in with a major search engine. It is a far from uncommon story.

99% Western search engine users probably don’t have the faintest clue what Yandex is. Just like they will probably never have heard of Cuil, Wolfram Alpha and Yebol. Breaking the Google or YaBing spell, no matter how good your product is or how big it is in one country, appears to be a challenge too far…for now at least.

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