Google is the king of search. At least, that’s the way it’s been for the past 20 years or so. Competitors were commonplace once upon a time, back when the Internet was still taking shape. But today, around two-thirds of all searches are performed on Google, and the few major competitors remaining have joined forces just to stay afloat. As a result, most search marketers only focus their efforts on getting praise—and ranking boosts—from Google.
It’s a sensible and worthwhile priority, since Google is still currently in control of the world of search. They hold the largest share of searchers—by far—and they tend to set the industry trends that every other search engine follows.
However, the Internet is becoming more open, and despite the tiny amount of attention they seem to be generating, there are new competitors trying to give Google a run for its money. Stale search functionality, predictable ad structures, and little attention to privacy are just some of the problems these micro-competitors are trying to resolve with their own search algorithms.
As a search marketer, it’s probably not worth adjusting your strategy just to fit in with these new search engine alternatives—at least not yet. But it is worthwhile to learn what these competitors are up to, and why they’re putting up the effort. Knowing the landscape of the competition could prepare you for the rise of a new major search rival, or perhaps the absorption of their expertise into Google’s juggernaut algorithm.
These are eight of the most popular and most attention-worthy alternative search engines around today:
Bing is the first and most obvious major competitor of Google, capturing a little over a fourth of all search traffic on the web. Bing is important to watch if for no other reason than their commitment to improving their own structure. Already, Bing has expanded by using their own search algorithms to fuel Yahoo!’s search interface, and Internet Explorer users (yes, they still exist) use Bing almost exclusively. Bing offers inbound link data with its LinkFromDomain feature, which is handy for search marketers, and it also has a handful of special searches for specific file types and certain phrase patterns (such as specific words being a specific distance away from each other in an online text).
In the modern age, dictated by NSA monitoring, hackers stealing credit card information, and leaks of private photos, privacy and security have become crucially important to the average Internet user. Google keeps your information practically forever, and will willingly disclose it to authorized outside parties, but DuckDuckGo intends to offer an alternative. DuckDuckGo doesn’t keep any private user search data, which eliminates the possibility of personalized results, but protects users from the possibility of their search history being scrutinized or accessed. As user privacy becomes an even greater concern, DuckDuckGo will likely grow in popularity (or serve as the inspiration for an even greater privacy-minded competitor). It’s unlikely that Google will adopt any major changes to its stance on privacy, so expect to see at least a handful of new privacy-based search engines pop up in the next several years.
Boardreader is a simplistic search engine based around a fairly simple idea: providing an easy way to search through forums and online communities. This is a highly specialized form of search engine, and it’s valuable because it could influence how Google (or another major competitor) handles these types of queries. Using a specialized algorithm, Boardreader scours the web for your search queries only when they appear within the body of a forum thread, post, or message. If you’re looking for a conversation about a specific topic, rather than raw information or direct access to a specific topic, Boardreader can be extremely helpful.
What Boardreader is for online forums and message boards, Topsy is for social media sites (but especially Twitter). Google does integrate social media information into its search results, but they tend to be based on the newest relevant posts or the users behind them. Topsy, on the other hand, delves deeper into the social world, generating results based on specific times or places, and offering regular alerts or analytics information for the inquisitive minds using it. It’s another branch in the search world that opens the door to more possibilities for social inquiry. Google may improve its social search functions, but this level of specificity in results will likely remain with specialized outlets like Topsy.
Creative Commons (CC) Search is a targeted search engine that populates results that you can share and use on your own. While CC Search itself is not a search engine, it functions as one by aggregating the results of other services to generate works that operate under a CC license. It’s a nice shortcut that can lead you to publicly available pictures and other pieces of content, but there’s no absolute guarantee that every piece of content is free to use—so check your links and give proper attribution. Still, CC Search is a nice example of a specialized search engine that gives more specific, relevant results than Google can offer for a specific purpose.
WolframAlpha started as a mathematical tool for students and professional mathematicians, and has since evolved into an integrated search engine focused on science and math. Users trying to search for specific math and science facts often rely on WolframAlpha rather than Google because it provides more direct answers in a faster interface. Its search function can even solve equations directly without simply searching for instances of that equation on the web. Google does have some calculating functionality currently, but WolframAlpha is highly specialized, and geared toward mathematicians. It could mark the beginning of a trend in catering to specific professionals, providing only the information they need rather than trying to give the most relevant results to a generalized audience.
Quantcast is useful for search marketers, not just because it’s developing a new trend in search, but because it can provide valuable information about web traffic and demographics. Currently somewhat limited in scope, Quantcast aims to provide detailed web visitor information about various sites to each search user, giving more transparency to the Internet as a whole. While Google tries to keep its algorithms and data as secretive as possible, Quantcast is all about open insights, and serves as an interesting foil to the search powerhouse.
Crunchbase is another “specialist” type of search engine, specifically scouting the web for people and businesses. If you’re looking for specific information about a company or an individual professional, Crunchbase will currently give you the most concise results. It gives users more personal results, weeding out any unnecessary review sites, social posts, or news results and focusing strictly on forming connections. Google may one day give greater weight to these types of results, but since they want to be an all-encompassing search solution, this type of search might always be better suited to such a specialized competitor.
Your core strategy needs to focus on the present, and as such, it should remain on pleasing Google for the time being. But as these small competitors begin to develop more advanced algorithms and start to encroach on previously undisputed Google territory, you’ll need to keep watch for the successful new trends. The world of search is expanding, at an admittedly glacial pace, but if you can keep your focus broad and inclusive of these alternative options, you’ll be prepared for whatever awaits you on the horizon.