In the 1990s I was an academic at the University of Edinburgh teaching electronics and computing. In 1998 a colleague introduced me to the Google search engine and as a result I made the shift from my previously preferred search engine, Alta Vista, to Google. Twenty years on, despite trying many others, I still use Google regularly. I was delighted by the Google experience 20 years ago, but today I dislike Google search for several reasons but I have yet to find a noticeably better alternative.

In a recent poll conducted by the Search Engine Journal (SEJ) it was revealed that that Duck Duck Go (DDG) is the most popular alternative to Google (based on 1097 SEJ Twitter followers who responded). However, according to Statcounter DDG have just 0.32% (October 2018) of the search market and Google have 92.74%. My question is whether Google’s monopoly could be under threat by emerging search engines such as DDG and if so, why have they not yet made a major impact on Google’s market share?

SEJsurvey

Google has held a monopoly position for around 20 years and in that time ‘to Google’ has become a verb. This incumbent position will not be easy to shift. DDG has a very similar product to Google it has not made much of a dent in the market. Their major differentiator is that it respects user privacy. However, if we are honest it does not deliver truly better search results, in fact in my experience the results are generally less good – and are still tainted by significant volumes of undesirable advertising content. Thus, DDGs market is a niche market segment that believe user privacy is essential and are willing to accept slightly inferior search results to achieve this. This market sector (which I include myself in) is huge in world terms – but remains a niche.

My shift from Alta Vista to Google some 20 years ago was based on it being a better solution to my internet search problem — data privacy was not generally thought about in 1998. For me DDG is not yet a better solution, if better results and less advertising (which I know is how they make money) was delivered alonside its enhanced privacy, then it could be a winner. The other problem for DDG is that the federated results use Bing as a major source of data, so they do not have an independent platform from which they can base an assault on Google.

My current opinion is that Google will slowly lose market share to a variety of small search engines such as DDG. One of these players will emerge as a future challenger to Google within the next 5 years and we may not even have heard of them yet. The successful search engine will likely do their own crawling and indexing so they are not dependent on Bing, Google or Yahoo and they will not rely on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising which most users dislike. It is quite probable that when they do emerge as a leading contender they will be acquired and scaled by a company with a large existing subscriber base and complimentary business activities such as Amazon.