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For years, Google has had a strong hold on the search industry, maintaining over a 75% market share for the desktop search market. If recent months are any indication however, that grip appears to be loosening.

According to the latest data from StatCounter, Google’s desktop search market share dipped below 75% for the first time since July 2008, continuing a downward trend that started in November.

US Search Share Jan

In November, Mozilla replaced Google with Yahoo as the default search engine on its Firefox web browser. Initially Google didn’t seem to be concerned, but a three month drop in search share seems to be finally getting their attention.

In mid-January Firefox users who visited the Google homepage were greeted with a banner encouraging them to set the search engine as their default. At the same time, Google also began tweeting instructions for how to replace the search engine.

US Search Share Jan Firefox

Since the five-year agreement was made between Yahoo and Mozilla, Yahoo has been consistently gaining ground, already replacing Bing as the second most popular desktop search engine. In total, Yahoo has nearly tripled its share of the desktop search market on Firefox, climbing to over 28% from less than 10% in November.

In the long run, it is still unclear whether Yahoo is going to be able to continue its ascent. While the changes are substantial, Firefox is also the least popular major desktop browser available. The change is search share is also limited to desktop, suggesting users aren’t so much choosing a new search engine but accepting what they are being given.

Despite these challenges, Aodhan Cullen, CEO of StatCounter, says Yahoo is already beating the odds:

“Some analysts expected Yahoo to fall in January as a result of Firefox users switching back to Google. In fact Yahoo has increased US search share by half a percentage point. It will be fascinating to see if these gains continue.”

It will be interesting to see if the trend continues and how Google might try to persuade more users to actively choose their search engine over the default.

yahoo-search-appAccording to new data from web traffic analytics provider StatCounter, Yahoo has reached its highest share of the U.S. search market in more than five years thanks to a recent agreement with Mozilla.

In December, Yahoo’s search share jumped to 10.4 percent, up from 8.6 percent in November. The new share of the search market came at the expense of Google, who was previously the default search engine for Mozilla’s web browser Firefox.

In late November, Mozilla agreed to a five-year partnership with Yahoo, breaking a 10 year partnership with Google. December marked the first full month during which Yahoo was the primary search engine on Firefox.

The drop brought Google to its lowest share ever recorded by the analytics firm, falling from 77.3 percent to 75.2 percent.

SearchShareDec2014

“The move by Mozilla has had a definite impact on U.S. search,” says Aodhan Cullen, chief executive at StatCounter. “The question now is whether Firefox users switch back to Google.”

Bing also saw an increase in their share of the search market last month, though not nearly as significant of an increase as Yahoo. From November to December, Bing’s share rose from 12.1 percent to 12.5 percent. The “other” category stayed practically the same, fluctuating from 2 percent to 1.9 percent.

Every month, comScore releases a “U.S. Search Engine Rankings” report illustrating the market shares of the most commonly used search engines. From month to month the results have stayed largely the same for over a year, with Google taking in almost exactly two-thirds of the market and the other search engines like Bing and Yahoo slowly growing and shrinking by minuscule percentages.

ComScore’s report is widely trusted by most of the online marketing community, but recently analysts from Conductor attempted to challenge comScore’s findings with their own report claiming Google actually rakes in a significantly larger percentage of searches. They even went as far as to title their reports “Why You Shouldn’t Trust comScore’s Numbers for Search Engine Market Share.”

Conductor-WhitePaper-2014-comScore_pdf__page_4_of_5_-600x369

For such an obvious attack on another analytics firm, you would assume Conductor was publishing new information or even comparing the same factors. As Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land shows in his article reviewing Conductor’s findings however, Conductor’s findings shouldn’t be news to anyone paying attention, and they don’t disprove comScore’s findings.

The issue i that, when people hear that Google controls two-thirds of the search market many publishers assume they should see close to the same proportion of traffic coming from the search engine. Instead, most publishers see significantly more traffic from Google than their market score seemingly indicates.But, market share isn’t a measurement of the traffic sites receive.

The monthly report from comScore reflects the number of actual searches conducted from the major search engines. Most importantly, their report isn’t affected by where the user goes after clicking on a search listing. Sullivan refers to this type of measurement as “before-the-click” behavior. Every search gets counted equally, no matter what the destination is.

Conductor’s analysis instead focuses on “post-click” behavior, or the traffic publishers receive from search engines. In their report, the information that matters most is the post-click activity. If someone does a search and clicks on a link that leads them back into the search engine, it isn’t measured in Conductor’s report.

The discrepancy between these two types of reports isn’t anything new. In fact, Sullivan cites 2006 as the last time it received significant attention due to Rich Skrenta writing that Google’s “true market share” being 70% while most measurement services were estimating their market share at 40%. Most entertainingly, Sullivan’s response then still perfectly explains why a gap might form. So much changes in search on a daily basis it is always noteworthy when something manages to be admirably accurate after eight years. As Danny Sullivan wrote at the time:

“But a search for something on Yahoo Sports? That might be counted as a “search” and it is – but it’s not the type of search that would register with site-based metrics. The searcher might stay entirely inside Yahoo.”

Search engines with the largest gaps favor their own services more than others, which would suggest that Bing’s 13% gap indicates they direct searchers to their own services and platforms more than any other search engine. Surprisingly, Google appears to favor themselves the least, with a -18% gap.

Of course, there is always the possibility that this gap could be created or exacerbated by other factors that may not have been in play at the time. When Sullivan asked comScore for its opinion on the difference between its reports and Conductor’s recent study he was told mobile search could also potentially be an influence. Google has a higher share of mobile search than compared to desktop figures, and comScore’s reports only include data from desktop users.

Both reports serve their own purposes, but both also highlight the same issue. Google has a huge hold on search traffic that should be recognized and planned for. But, those who buy into Conductor’s study may be tempted to ignore the other search engines entirely. To each their own, but my opinion still favors an approach which puts the most weight in Google but doesn’t cut out the other search engines too much.