Do you remember a time before the internet? For many of us, the answer is no, as we’ve all become accustomed to a life where all our answers are at our fingertips. Yes, the internet certainly made it possible, but without search engines, we’d be lost across the internet trying to find a web page that answers our burning questions at 12 am.
In this article, we will discuss the origins of search engines and provide some foresight into the future of search, and what factors are at play that could change how our discovery for our next lunch or dinner spot is not answered by Google but by another player!
The History of Search
January 1st 1983 is the official birthday of the internet, before this point there lacked a standard way for computer networks to communicate with each other. For those who are diving head first into the world of blockchains, NFTs and the Metaverse, this is considered web3, but back in 1983, we had web1, and it was mindblowing!
However, it seemed as soon as we had the internet we had search engines. The mere mention of search engines no doubt conjures one name, Google. But, believe it or not, there was a time before Google!
Some of the search engines that appeared before Google include WebCrawler, Lycos, AltaVista and if you don’t know any of these then maybe you’ve heard of good old Yahoo!
Jump forward to 1998 and Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin and the internet was never the same! Google has a similar origin story to that of Facebook, finding its roots in a dorm room at Stanford University. The first search query on Google was the name Gerhard Casper, the president of Standford University – lucky guy!
Google soon become too big for a dorm room and eventually found a new HQ in California and so began its domination. Today we can list countless Google products beyond the search engine, we’ve got Gmail, YouTube, the android phone and various other tech products.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! Rewind back to the internet and the growth of search engine platforms! Back in the early days, people creating websites were generating vast numbers of site traffic, why? Well, the competition was low and those really ahead of the game knew about search engine optimization!
Search engine optimization is a well-known practice among digital marketers, and has been about since search engines. However, in these times creating web pages wasn’t as simple as searching for a website building platform like Squarespace or Wix – we didn’t even have WordPress until the 2000s.
Those creating web pages in the late 90s and early 2000s were winning, and in 2008 and 2009 we had the blogger boom! People began catching on to the opportunity of web pages in creating audiences and providing the opportunity to monetise websites through banner ads and affiliate links.
However, then we had the era of spammers that came in and gave search engine optimization (SEO) a bad name. But who was there to help…Google of course! Google quickly responded to the threat of spammers by taking a harsher stance on sites wanting to rank highly on search engine pages. Now it was harder for the little guys to appear on the first page on Google as they now favour more established sites with more authority which is very much our modern-day reality.
What is a Search Engine Platform (SEP)
So we’ve established that when we think of a search engine platform we automatically think of Google. But what is the official definition of a search engine platform? So if you tap the query into Google, then the definition that appears will read as follows:
A search engine is a software program that helps people find the information they are looking for online using keywords or phrases. Search engines are able to return results quickly—even with millions of websites online—by scanning the Internet continuously and indexing every page they find.
According to Statista, “As of July 2022, online search engine Bing accounted for nearly nine per cent of the global search market, while market leader Google had a share of around 83 per cent. Meanwhile, Yahoo’s market share was 2.55 per cent”.
Even since Google search was introduced, the worldwide market share of all search engines has been dominated by the company. However, in other markets, Google doesn’t even get a look in! For example in China, Baidu is the most used search engine with nearly 86% of internet users accessing it in the country, if we look to Russia then 59% of internet users are searching across Yandex.
However, globally Google is king and it doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon! Players have come and gone, but Google globally has the foothold and has become synonymous with search on the web, with people even going as far as to replace the word search with Google – because at the end of the day it’s the same thing!
Why Does Everyone Use Google?
Google is the clear leader when it comes to search, but why? We’ve covered some points already but the main reason Google is dominating because of a need to be the best. This mentality is reflected by the constant changes and updates to products to improve the search experience. Google has the fundamental aim of providing the best results over competitors, making it the only choice when users are wanting to scour the internet.
Other factors are also at play, for instance, Google is fast, like really fast! Googlers get their answers in under a second which is convenient for tech-savvy individuals who have no time to waste, nor the patience to wait on loading screens.
Google also has the largest volume of sites in the index and picks up new sites faster than competitors. Nobody wants to pick a search engine that doesn’t have the most information – making Google a no-brainer!
Furthermore, Google is already in the hearts and minds of most internet users. The branding itself instils a sense of trust and well, everyone else is using it so why wouldn’t you?
We can’t forget the various tools Google produces to enhance the search for marketers and site owners such as GA (Google Analytics), Google Search Console, Google Tags Manger and other webmaster tools! Like Apple, Google builds an ecosystem of products that all complement each other, making it inconvenient to use anything else.
How Social Media Is Eating Into Google’s Search
This whole article so far has led you to believe that Google isn’t going anywhere, right? Well, Google does face a threat like never before with social media.
Google was smart to acquire YouTube in 2006 because today it’s the second largest search engine platform. Internet users are just as likely to Google something as to source an answer from YouTube. So since 2006, Google has been able to fend of any threat from social media platforms.
However, even Google itself has in recent times highlighted the threat of social with Google’s Senior Vice President stating:
“40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search, they go to TikTok or Instagram.”
Platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat have been developing location tools, helping users to find nearby businesses to seek out experiences. Most recently TikTok has been testing a ‘Nearby’ feed that could change the game!
TikTok new ‘Nearby’ content feed aims to supplement the ‘For You’ and ‘Following’ feed tabs already existing within the app. The new feed option will display content posted by users in their current location, helping to generate geo-targeted engagements, gaining even more insight on what content is best to serve to users, based on location.
This is great for brands! If a user is constantly served content about restaurants, then the ‘Nearby’ feed can serve hyper-relevant content about restaurants near to the user – helping to drive footfall.
This feed sounds great but is still in testing with a small group of users in Southeast Asia, but if TikTok is capturing the largest share of time online among the masses then it makes sense to help users to find specific things tailored to their interests. TikTok can arguably do this better than Google, based on all the data the platform has on users that help accurately identify the best short clips of interest to serve to the individual.
Furthermore, social platforms are a place where users can connect with friends and family online. From the learnings from apps such as WeChat in China, if platforms can provide an all-in-one product then users will be loyal and your app will stand the test of time. For example, WeChat has built out an offering of Mini Program, enriching the ecosystem provided by the platform. Users can essentially do anything in the app from instant payments, live streaming, messaging, shopping and gaming.
Platforms in the West are following suit, looking to build out a multitude of experiences in apps to keep people engaged for longer. This objective has led us to where we are today, where Google is suddenly feeling the heat from social in monopolising discovery online.
Google Search Updates
Never to be one to sit idly on the side of innovation, Google is updating its search algorithms once again, in order to highlight more valuable results, spotlighting content generated by actual people and not from automatic systems designed to generate web pages, based on specific criteria for Google’s SERP ranking.
Google says it will highlight content quality and depth, to put less emphasis on content created with the aim to purely rank well in search engines. This means content that lacks quality information in response to a Google search will no longer rank highly.
Initial testing by Google already wielded improved results when queries are related to online education, tech, arts, shopping and entertainment. This means we should expect these changes to come into effect swiftly to ensure the continual improvement of the Google experience.
But marketers beware! You will now need to ensure all content aimed to improve search engine result page (SERP) ranking is anything but unhelpful content based on keyword matching, if not you will soon see a dip in SERP rankings.
What The Future of Search Will Be Like
What is certain is that Google will still dominate the search engine platform market share in the West for the foreseeable future. But social platforms will continue to eat away at the share, especially among younger internet users.
But we can’t forget that Google-owned YouTube is still the second largest search engine platform and a powerful video hosting social media platform, and with YouTube Shorts taking aim at TikTok, we could eventually see this feature finding a new way for users to discover. Google will not doubt pivot offerings if needed to maintain its control over search, but TikTok could prove a formidable competitor – already wiping the floor with Meta-owned apps!
We’ve already seen Google test showing TikTok videos in search results, so the future could be a more established integration with the short-form video app, and we can’t ever rule out a Google acquisition, especially since ByteDance (parent company to TikTok) is nearly sold the whole US side of the business to Oracle!
If we look further into the future the development of web3 could also play a huge role in the future of search, but for the time Google is still the leader globally and we’re sure the company won’t go down without a fight when it comes to search dominance!
Don’t forget to catch up with our latest vlog where we take a step into the metaverse!