Absence of competition in the search market

A few short years ago there was still a fair amount of competition for your questions and searches. Even when Google had become the major player there was still a good percentage of the market who used Yahoo and MSN, and a reasonable number who used Alltheweb, Hotbot, Alta Vista, and a few others, while the major ISPs and portals such as AOL, Netscape, Blueyonder etc. also had search results that were somewhat independent even if they were based on one of the major players.

Now however we are seeing almost total domination by Google and a lot of people are getting worried. A recent analysis of search engine share showed that both Yahoo and MSN/Live Search are down in single figures on the percentages and the rest are nowhere. Google UK alone beats all except Yahoo and is not far behind them. Google Canada alone has almost as much share as MSN. Google Germany alone beats Ask.

Meanwhile, reading the webmaster and seo forums shows a lot of people who are totally dependent on Google for their traffic and therefore their business survival and there is no longer an alternative strategy for them. They are worried, and with good reason. Even discounting the ones who proclaim innocense of unethical methods but are shown to be riddled with them when you look at their sites, there are still many who find themselves suddenly dropping out of sight when Google make a change to their algorithm. Indeed it happened to me when the last really major change took place about a year and a half ago – some terms that I had been clearly the most relevant site for dropped completely out of the results, yet once the BigDaddy update was resolved they suddenly reappeared as high as before and are still there. If I had been dependent on them for my income then their loss for 3 months could have had serious consequences. Yet throughout this time there was stony silence from Google other than the general platitudes about creating good content and many webmasters and small businesses will have spent a lot of wasted time making unnecessary changes to their sites in the vain hope of making a difference.

Such a situation makes people jittery and it hasn’t been helped at all by the recent utterances about paid links and suggestions from Google that you should snitch on your competitors. If this had been confined to the more blatant attempts to manipulate PageRank then that would have been one thing, but in fact they appeared to be declaring that all paid links are bad unless they carry nofollow tags, and that has really got a lot of backs up.

Suddenly Google, the company that everyone liked because of their simple, clean and advert-free interface, and their “do no evil” ethos that harked back to a more innocent and somewhat hippy-inspired internet, is being cast in the role of villain and their monopoly seen as a threat.

In fact the unthinkable has happened – Microsoft, the company that everyone loved to hate for their own monopolistic practices, is being seen as a last hope for competition and is being urged to follow through on the rumoured merger with Yahoo.

Google need to be very careful if they are to retain/regain their previous blissful public relations position. Trotting out cuddly Matt Cutts and cute Vanessa may not be enough any more. With worry about the ever increasing amount of private data being collected people naturally think about Big Brother (and I don’t mean the attrocious reality TV programme). They might just start thinking about George Orwell’s other well known line – “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. If that happens then instead of us worrying about how much Google trusts our websites, Google might have to start worrying about how much we trust them!

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