Why Fewer Americans Are Googling Things

Gil C/Shutterstock.com

People who are coming online now are getting used to a world in which they go to apps rather than a browser to look for something.

As Quartz argued last year, Google’s hold on the search market is indisputably solid, but it is not set in stone. While no single company will be able to bump Google off its pedestal, several rivals are attacking from different fronts—the latest of which involves Mozilla’s Firefox browser.

In November, Yahoo and Mozilla sewed up a deal to make Yahoo the default search engine on Firefox. Enough Firefox users are typing queries into the search field—without having changed the default setting—that the arrangement seems to be chipping away already at Google’s US market share in search, while boosting Yahoo’s.

Google’s market share in search in the US fell to 75.2% in December, down from 77.3% in November and 79.3% in December 2013. Meanwhile, Yahoo search grew to 10.4% of the market from 8.6% in November, according to Statcounter.

Google’s share hasn’t been this low since Statcounter began tracking the data in 2008, Bloomberg reports. Danny Sullivan of Search Engline Land, a trade publication, told Bloomberg that Google shouldn’t be too worried about the Mozilla-Yahoo deal. Firefox’s share in the browser market is declining. Chrome, Google’s browser, is rising. In the long run, Google may well win back lost market share in search.

But to be complacent about the long term would be foolish—and not just because Facebook now is ramping up its efforts on search.

The December dip in market share for Google shows how reliant the largest web companies are on the laziness of users. Researchers have shown over and over again that everyday users do not change the default settings on the software they use.

These are dangerous signs for a company that has established the default behaviour on desktop and laptop computers but has failed to do something similar on mobile, which serves as the digital on-ramp for the vast majority of new internet users. People who are coming online now are getting used to a world in which they go to apps rather than a browser to look for something, and such habits will be hard to shake—which means that whoever can convince these users that theirs is the app to go to stands to gain the most.

Meanwhile, other big Silicon Valley firms are trying to change the behavior of more experienced users simply by changing the defaults. Google is said to have lost access to the location data of tens of millions of iPhone users after Apple booted Google Maps of iOS in favor of its own maps product. The signs point to a similar move in the coming years for default search, on Apple computers and phones. The latest version of the Mac operating system, for example, encourages users to type their quick searches into the desktop search function rather than open a browser and go to Google.

(Image via Gil C/Shutterstock.com)