Searching Beyond Google

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If you tallied up the number of searches executed any given week, the top four search engines combined — Google, Yahoo Search, MSN (and its new Live search) and — would account for 98.3% of all searches in the U.S. Those top four engines clearly have a hold on the American public. But new search sites, perhaps inspired by the financial gains of Google and Yahoo, are still being introduced; as of last week, a total of 1,592 different search engines were visited by U.S. Internet users.

With the top four accounting for the bulk of all searches — and Google alone used for 64% of all executed searches in the U.S. — the question is, who is using those 1,598 other engines?

The answer depends on what type of "other" search engine a user might gravitate to. There are meta-search properties that combine the search results from other engines — sites like, and While the users of these kinds of sites skew female, the typical profile for meta-search engines is a less technically sophisticated user who tends to be 55 or older. Initially meta-search was a favorite of the tech-savvy user — in the early years of search, it wasn't uncommon to find drastically different results on the major sites, and meta-search engines served a very useful purpose of providing a comprehensive set of results. But in today's world, where there is substantial parity between engines, their value has diminished.

Another class of search engines that we find beyond the top four are the retro-engines, or search engines that were at the top of their game in the '90s like Altavista and Lycos. These engines are the Internet equivalent of classic rock and oldies radio stations that pepper the airwaves. Demographic profiles of these search engines reveal that most users are in the 35 to 44 age category, most likely users that began using these engines in their heyday and maintained their loyalty.

The most prolific class of secondary search engines are those that focus on a very narrow purpose — engines that aid our search for the best prices for retail items and travel services. As we have pointed out, the people saving money usually have money; affluent Internet users are the key demographics for these sites.

The most interesting sites in the search engine category lurk deep within the list of 1,600 sites: new companies that have the hopes and aspirations of being the next Google. Sites like (#171 in the search engine rankings) and (#153) are attempting to insert human editors back into the search experience, while other sites like Powerset and Wikia are attempting to create a whole new paradigm for search through better understanding of syntax and community involvement. It's hard to imagine that one of these startups could upset the search engine apple cart, especially one so top-heavy with the reigning four engines. Although I remember saying exactly that back in the late '90s when I heard about a couple of Stanford grads who planned to displace the top engines of the time with their new creation. "Google? Who is going to use a search engine named Google?"

Bill Tancer is general manager of global research at Hitwise.