The Battle for Search Supremacy – Google vs Microsoft – Round 3

A little over 12 months ago, I started a series of posts looking at the search engine war between Google & Microsoft (see part 1 here and part 2 here). When we last left the action, the proposed Yahoo-MSN merger had fallen through, and Yahoo had subsequently signed an $800 million search marketing deal with Google which would have seen Google Ads displayed in Yahoo search results. At the time I claimed that this may have been the death knell for Yahoo! Search Marketing but since then the proposed arrangement was abandoned by Google after it ran into complications with US anti-trust regulators.

The last few months has subsequently seen Yahoo and Microsoft enter into a new deal that will see Yahoo’s Search Marketing ads appear on Microsoft sites and Microsoft’s organic results (powered by Bing) appear in Yahoo searches. Once again, this deal will need to jump through the anti-trust hoops but if it does, it shapes as a real threat to Google’s seemingly invincible search monopoly. Having said that, for Australian users this doesn’t change all that much, as Yahoo! Search Marketing has been controlling paid ad placements on Microsoft sites for some time anyway.

After only a few short years, it appears that Microsoft’s Live search engine experiment has been put to rest and in it’s place has emerged Bing, which has launched a massive $100 million (plus) worldwide advertising campaign designed to capture some of Google’s 80-85% market share. The name Bing was supposedly chosen because it resembles the sound made when you discover what you’re looking for (the lightbulb moment), but more cynical users might more logically associate it with a Windows error message dialog.

I have a slightly different theory, as Microsoft no doubt realised they needed to come up with a name that could make its way into users’ vocabulary in much the same way that “Google it” has entered mainstream vernacular. The old name, Live, didn’t lend itself to being used as an verb, but with Bing, they do have that (faint) hope.

So what does this mean for the ‘Google v Microsoft’ battle? The early signs are that Bing is making some ground into the search engine market share, with figures reporting that Bing has captured between 5-8% of the total search audience since June 2009. This may not seem like much, but in a industry worth billions of dollars every year, this translates to a significant jump in advertising revenues. Being in the industry, I’ve also been asked quite a number of times about Bing, and in the 3 years that Live was in existence prior, I don’t remember it ever being mentioned by a client once.

There’s no doubt that Google still reigns supreme over both Microsoft’s various search incarnations and Yahoo but for the first time in quite a few years, it seems that both Yahoo and Microsoft have abandoned their “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality when it came to Google and are now actually serious about taking on (or at the very least, making some inroads into) Google’s mantle as the undisputed king of search.

Bring on the next round…

Craig Somerville is a Director at Reload Media, having worked extensively on the digital and online strategies of leading companies within Australia and around the world. With a background in marketing and economics, Craig's unique experience offers great insight into how the world of search and online marketing is changing in today's rapid marketplace. He is also a Google AdWords Qualified Professional and regularly consults on all aspects of digital marketing including search engine optimisation (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and social media.