Talk about Google, along with their domination of the digital ad ecosystem, would not be on the lips of those in ad tech were it not for their original product: the Google Search engine.
Despite negative press coverage and EU fines, some estimates suggest the behemoth continues to enjoy a market share of just under 90% in the UK search market. However there have been rumblings of discontent from publishers, which populate the results pages, about how they have been treated by the California-based giant.
This anger, combined with concerns over GDPR and copyright law violations, has prompted the launch of new ‘disruptive’ search engines designed to address these concerns. But will these have any effect on Google’s stranglehold on the global search industry? ExchangeWire details the problems publishers are experiencing with Google along with some of the new players in the search market, what effect they have had thus far, and how advertisers could capitalise on privacy-focused competition in the search market.
Google vs publishers
Publishers have experienced margin squeezes for years, whilst Google’s sales have simultaneously skyrocketed, with parent company Alphabet’s revenue reaching USD$36.3bn (£28.7bn) in the first quarter of 2019 alone. Many content producers also feel dismay towards Google’s ‘enhanced search listings’, as these essentially scrape content from their sites and show it in their search results, eliminating the need for users to visit their site, and in turn their monetisation opportunity.
Recent changes to the design of the search results page, at least on mobile devices, which are seemingly aimed at making the differences between ads and organic listings even more subtle (an effect which is particularly noticeable on local listings) will also prove perturbing for the publishers which do not use Google paid search listings.
DuckDuckGo: The quack grows louder
Perhaps the best-known disruptive search engine is DuckDuckGo, which markets itself on protecting user privacy whilst also refining results by excluding low-quality sources such as content mills. In an attempt to battle against privacy concerns, and in recognition of anti-competitive investigations, Google has added DuckDuckGo to Chrome as a default search option in over 60 markets including the UK, US, Australia and South Africa. Further reflecting their increased presence in the search market: DuckDuckGo’s quack has become louder recently, adding momentum to the recent calls to transform the toothless ‘Do Not Track’ option into giving more meaningful protections to user privacy, as originally intended.
Qwant: Local search engines fighting Google
Qwant is a France-based search engine which, similar to DuckDuckGo, preserves user privacy by not tracking their queries. Several similar locally-based engines have been rolled out across Europe, including Mojeek (UK) and Unbubble (Germany). Whilst they currently only occupy a small percentage (~6%) of the French search market, Qwant’s market share has grown consistently year-on-year since their launch in 2013, to the extent that they are now challenging established players such as Yahoo! in the country. In recognition of their desire to increase their growth across Europe, whilst continuing to operate in a privacy-focused manner, Qwant has recently partnered with Microsoft to leverage their various tech solutions. A further sign of their growing level of gravitas is the French government’s decision to eschew Chrome in favour of their engine.
Ahrefs: The 90/10 profit share model
A respected provider of performance-monitoring tools within search, Ahrefs is now working on directly competing with Google with their own engine, according to a series of tweets from founder & CEO Dmitry Gerasimenko. Whilst a commitment to privacy will please users, content creators will be more interested in the proposed profit-share model, whereby 90% of the prospective search revenue will be given to the publisher. Though there is every change that this tweet-stage idea will never come to fruition, the Singapore-based firm already has impressive crawling capabilities which are easily transferable for indexing, so it is worth examining in the future.
Opportunity for advertisers
With the launch of Google privacy tools, along with stricter forms of intelligent tracking prevention (ITP) on the Safari and Firefox browsers, discussions have abounded within the advertising industry on whether budgets will be realigned away from display and video towards fully contextual methods such as keyword-based search. Stricter implementation of GDPR and the prospective launch of similar privacy legislation across the globe will further the argument that advertisers need to examine privacy-focused solutions.
Naturally these factors will compromise advertisers who rely on third-party targeting methods and tracking user activity across the internet, meaning they need to identify ways of diversifying their offering. Though they have a comparatively tiny market share, disruptive search engines represent a potential opportunity for brands and advertisers to experiment with privacy-compliant search advertising.