Tech Brief:

Google, still widely considered “the most popular search engine by far” (Sullivan), has been an innovative leader of the industry for years. They have faced significant competitors, but none have significantly impacted their market place. By December 2012, Google still had 65.2% of the global number of searches (Sullivan). That’s an extremely large percentage considering different countries have different cultures and being so marketable globally is a large part of what makes Google so successful. By 2011, search engines were extremely useful and popular in being an intermediary between users and the websites they were searching for.

Search engines would work by a user entering a string of characters that would be used to scan the search engines index of webpages for relatable information to the search criteria. The program they use to do this is called a ‘web crawler’; the web crawler within seconds of clicking the search button after entering criteria, “automatically browses the web and stores information about the pages it visits” (BBC). This also explains how search engines show previous entries that have similar criteria to what the user enters as the user is entering. This was a brilliant tool that was designed to be more powerful the more it was used, because of the mass information stored that could be used to help the next user that had a similar search. Google is famously known for their web crawler and how the web pages are ordered by their usefulness to the user. The order of the pages is handled by algorithms that sequence by the placement of information, the amount of times the inputted data was mentioned on the website, how often the web page was updated and if it was a trustworthy domain. Different search engines have different ordering criteria and different algorithms to handle these signals. The most popular of these algorithms is PageRank (BBC). PageRank works by ordering webpage results by its click-through rate and how popular it is and its usefulness to the user. The webpages that match these criteria the best appear on the top of the results.

Search engines were created with the intent on helping users find web pages that they didn’t know the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) for. This was beneficial for users because it was a tool for exploring the internet and the website owners because it generated more traffic for their sites. In May 2012, Google introduced the Knowledge Graph; this was a game changer for search engines. The Knowledge Graph is a system that runs complex algorithms to implicitly or explicitly withdraw entities from a web page (Starr). They obtained explicit entities by taking portions of the original web pages structured data markup that most directly related to the user’s search criteria, and using the site’s code to develop results. They leveraged semantic web technology to do this. Obtaining explicit entities was used for information that was more difficult to duplicate such as graphs, images, etc. Implicit entities were more text based and Google could extract pertinent information from websites that related to their user’s search criteria. This was used to assist users with finding definitions, directions, lists, etc. The more specific the user’s specifications were, the more accurate the Knowledge Graph’s results would be. This gave Google the ability to be a source of information for the user.

This was met with resistance from websites that believed Google was obtaining their information without permission and using it to increase Google’s number of searches while in turn reducing their site’s traffic and click-through rates. This was a big shift in the search engine dynamic, because to this point, search engines were used as an information intermediary. Google could avoid any legal troubles by posting links to the original sites of all the information they extracted, and because the sites were already open to the public via the internet, they wouldn’t have a strong case going to court with. Google didn’t cease their intermediary efforts, but expanded to also become a source of information to the user.

Google has had many competitors, from traditional search engines such as Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo to popular sites that have their own implemented searches such as eBay, and Walmart. Microsoft Bing or Yahoo would be the assumed biggest competitors to Google, but Eric Schmidt, Google executive, in 2014 somewhat surprisingly proclaimed Amazon as being Google’s biggest threat. “‘…Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon. People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon’” (Soper). This was a surprising statement because in the past year, Amazon spent $157.7 million on Google search ads, the most by any company that year (Soper). This co-opetition between Google and Amazon has led to much success and has caused many disputes.

Google’s fear of Amazon was caused by the rise of the E-Commerce Giant and how popular it had gotten; they believed that because of Amazon’s popularity, many potential customers looking for commerce would go directly to the Amazon site and not make use of Google’s search engine. Eric Schmidt predicted this in 2013 and he was right; Amazon has rapidly grown and is currently dominating the e-commerce market creating a large customer base that uses Amazon’s site for most of their commerce purchases. Although Google is still the undisputed leader in search engines, they lost many searches due to the growth of Amazon. “A study from Forrester Research supports Schmidt’s statement, showing that thirty percent of online shoppers go directly to search Amazon versus thirteen percent starting with Google” (Blystone).

Amazon and Google have a very profitable relationship that has recently soured. Amazon had a feature that would show images with links to sites for “product ads” that were pay-per click (O'Reilly). This created additional revenue for Amazon while giving those sites additional traffic. The problem was Amazon wasn’t responsible for the transaction data once the link redirected the users from their site; this gave Ad sellers, such as Google, the opportunity to use these ads to obtain Amazon’s users information and their shopping habits. This would help them be better equipped to target Amazon’s customers. Amazon found this error and corrected it, getting rid of the feature, and pushing brands to sell their products from the Amazon site for a fee. Many brands were forced to comply due to the large amount of traffic on the Amazon site and this gave Amazon the power to hide customer purchase information from Ad Sellers.

“Google boasts a 64% share of U.S. desktop searches as of April 2015 according to Internet analytics company comScore,” (Blystone). Microsoft launched Bing in 2009, as their answer to Google’s powerful search engine. They made Bing the default search engine for all their products and heavily advertised it. This propelled Bing into becoming one of Google’s largest direct competitors. Bing also created a relationship with Yahoo, another one of Google’s direct competitors. Bing would power Yahoo Search and in return sell advertising space on their search results. This gave Bing the platform to sell ad space on both sites. Even with this partnership, Google still has 64% of searches nationally; while combined with Yahoo’s search, Bing-powered searches rose to 32% nationally.

Although Bing has quickly grown into becoming a legitimate direct competitor with Google, it seems unlikely that they would ever surpass Google. Therefore, Google’s biggest threats are its indirect competitors, sites that have large amounts of traffic. Google’s main source of revenue is selling its advertising space and sites choose to invest in this ad space because of the massive amounts of traffic and clicks that Google has daily. Although Google has the most powerful and efficient search engine, they must compete in selling ad space with the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Walmart. These sites generate massive amounts of traffic, whether it be through selling commodities or social media, and many companies choose to buy ad-space from them.

Google’s answer to attract more traffic back to their site has been Google express. To directly compete with e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Walmart, Google created an online delivery service for regular commodities. They reached deals with popular brands such as Costco, Giant, Walgreens, to sell their products and handle the delivery service offering same-day, overnight, and two-day delivery. This was thought to be Google’s response to the popular Amazon Prime. While Amazon still had much more variety in their products, Google Express offered specific products from specific stores which attracted customers.

Currently, Google Express hasn’t created the online traffic that Google was expecting, mostly because it wasn’t marketed well enough and the search ads weren’t connected to the Express catalog. In the future, Google plans to expand Google Express to a national service by stopping the sales of perishable items, such as milk, vegetables, etc. (D'Onfro). This decision was made so that Google’s search results wouldn’t have to also consider the time it takes to deliver the products before they expire thus opening Google Express as a national service. It is very unlikely that Google Express would even be competitive as an E-commerce service; But if it generates more traffic and clicks for Google’s search engine while taking potential customers away from E-commerce Giants (Amazon, Walmart, etc.), Google Express will be considered a success.