Early Investing

The Search Engine Market Is Waiting to Be Disrupted

The Search Engine Market Is Waiting to Be Disrupted
By Vin Narayanan
Date August 10, 2022

Since its launch in 1998, Google is the only search engine that’s really mattered. Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, AltaVista and others just couldn’t keep up. As of July, Google controlled almost 84% of the search market. Bing — Google’s closest rival — had less than 9% of the market. And DuckDuckGo, a search engine designed to protect user privacy that debuted in 2008, had less than 1% market share.

That’s 24 years of search engine dominance. And there’s no challenger in sight. 

I’ve contributed as much as anyone to Google’s dominance. I use Google for search. I use Gmail for email. I’m writing this article using Google Docs on a Chromebook whose operating system is powered by Google. I’ve been using Android phones since Google launched the mobile operating system in 2008. If Google makes a product, I probably use it.

But my love for Google doesn’t make me blind. Even I understand that almost 25 years of market domination can stifle innovation. Where is the innovation in search? Google has done an excellent job of improving its algorithm and making its results more relevant. But surely there’s room for improvement. A startup somewhere has to be working on search and making it better. That’s what startups do!

That’s why I was excited when Ahrefs launched a new search engine called Yep. Ahrefs operates in the search engine optimization (SEO) space. It provides tools and data that people can use to help websites improve where they’re positioned in Google’s search results. And that’s critically important for any web-based business. Sites that end up on the first two pages of Google’s search results (and especially the first page) get the most web traffic. As a result, competition to land on the first two pages of Google’s search results is fierce. And people are more than willing to pay Ahrefs to get the data and information edge they need to improve their position in Google’s search results.

Ahrefs has spent more than a decade crawling and indexing websites to gather the data it needs for its SEO business. It understands the technical challenge it’s facing to build a better search experience than Google. 

What Ahrefs doesn’t appear to understand is the business challenge it’s facing.

Ahrefs believes the solution to better search results is a new business model — one that rewards the people creating content instead of the search engine that finds it. It’s creating a search engine and a business that would give content creators 90% of the ad revenue Yep generates.

But a new business model doesn’t attract customers. People searching the web want better, faster and more relevant results. Or results that they can’t get from Google. Like true video search, or the ability to search through podcasts or for music that doesn’t have lyrics. And there’s nothing to suggest Yep will deliver that. 

Sometimes, business is quite simple. If you don’t give the people what they want, they’re not going to use your product. And giving more money to creators rather than providing a better search experience isn’t going to move the needle for most people.

The search engine market is waiting to be disrupted. But don’t look for Yep or Ahrefs to be the ones to do it.

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