Author(s): Peter Bryer
December search engine market share stats reported by Web site analytics firm StatCounter show a loss for Google, a gain for Yahoo and brand indifference from about a fifth of users. Default settings in software and devices are an asset to leverage.
According to StatCounter, Google search share for December was 75%, down from 79% a year earlier and the company's largest share loss in five years. Yahoo was the big gainer during the month, reaching 10.4 points of share, up three points from December 2013. Microsoft's Bing search service took 12.5% of the US market.
Yahoo was able to reach its highest share in the US since 2009 as a result of its deal with Mozilla to become the default search engine in the latest version of Firefox, which was rolled out at the beginning of December 2014. Firefox is used by less than 15% of American PC users, meaning Yahoo's gain came from relatively small number of users.
It's tempting to read Google's market share loss as a worrying trend for the firm, indicating inevitable market shifts given the law of large number. However, the most interesting observation is the power of default settings in software. Changing default search engine settings in Firefox is an obvious and straightforward process to most users, but December search stats indicate that the pre-selected choice of search brand might be just fine for up to 20% of users.
An argument could be made that these are the least tech savvy users, but it's worth noting that Firefox users are at least engaged enough to install or have someone help them install the third-party browser to begin with. However, only one month has passed since many PCs received the update from Mozilla, and users might adjust their settings over time. Future stats will be telling.
If default settings turn out to be significant to search engine share, a larger potential loss looms for Google if Apple switches away from Google as the default in iOS devices. Safari has a significant share of mobile search — more than 50% in the US, according to StatCounter — and a default change to an alternative could make a difference to the search market. Microsoft and Yahoo will be busy in the background, crunching the numbers.
If search is a commoditised service for up to a fifth of users and the quality of search results are perceived to be equal, then out-of-box settings could alter markets. The indications are that defaults matter and have a value.