NEW YORK It may seem like Google always has been the search engine of choice. There was a time, though, when AltaVista, Lycos and Yahoo ruled the roost in the late-1990s, only to see Google blow past them.
A new survey by Forrester Research concludes that such a turnabout could happen again, despite the solid and growing lead Google maintains in the search market. It found that brand loyalty to search engines is quite low. That coupled with the lowest of switching costs makes the still nascent search market an open playing field, the researcher concludes.
Over half of respondents said they search using multiple engines. Just 20 percent use Google exclusively. Yahoo is the exclusive engine for 8 percent, AOL by 3 percent and MSN a piddling 1 percent.
Forrester surveyed more than 4,800 U.S. online adults about their search habits. Their activity was self-reported, not observed.
Google has built a sizable lead in attracting searchers, which has in turn made it into an Internet advertising powerhouse. Microsoft last year tried to close the gap with a deal to acquire Yahoo, only to have it fall apart after Yahoo resisted.
According to comScore, Google sites generated 85 billion searches in 2008, accounting for 90 percent of the growth in queries last year. Forrester’s self-reported data tracks Google’s share of searchers at 59 percent, up from 41 percent three years ago.
Still, the findings give a glimmer of hope to Google competitors Microsoft and Yahoo, while also providing ammunition to Google’s defense against antitrust concerns over its growing lead in the search advertising market. Google and Yahoo recently scuttled a deal for Google ads to appear on Yahoo results pages after the government echoed reservations put forth by Microsoft.
Yahoo in particular has advantages. It trumps Google as the search site most often identified by users as their home page, 30 percent to 23 percent. Just 7 percent said they use MSN as their home page. The challenge for Yahoo: just half of its home page users most frequently used it for search.
The report found the best way to compete with Google is by offering a different type of search than simple information retrieval. While consumers said Google was best for finding Web sites and information on a specific topic, they chose Microsoft and Yahoo as more effective for finding news, finance and media content.