As Apple-Google Deal Expires, Who Will Win The Safari Default Search Business?

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According to numerous sources Apple’s search deal with Google is expiring soon. That means the “default” search placement on Safari is up for grabs. Will Bing or Yahoo secure that business or will Apple introduce its own search engine, as some are speculating?

According to RKG’s Mark Ballard,”roughly half of total paid search traffic [is] at stake in 2015 if the Safari search default is really up for grabs across devices.” That’s massive.

If Google did not retain the Apple search business, it would potentially face an immediate drop in mobile traffic, market share and paid clicks. According to StatCounter, Safari on the desktop and mobile drives just under 26 percent of US internet traffic. That’s second only to Chrome and more than IE.

US Browser Market Share

Safari browser share

Source: StatCounter (February 2015)

The Yahoo default Firefox deal has meaningfully boosted its search market share in the US. As indicated, Safari is a much larger prize.

Bing already powers search for Siri on mobile devices and for Apple on the PC in Spotlight search. If Apple is going to make a change or can’t reach an agreement with Google, Bing is the likely go-to partner.

Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer has made no secret of her desire to be the default search engine for Apple. While the Firefox deal gives Yahoo more credibility in the race the company is still a long shot. Then there’s the possibility that Apple would introduce its own search engine.

Many people are pointing to another job listing at Apple for an “engineer projection manager — Apple Search” as evidence that Apple might be building its own search capability.

Apple search job listing

In 2012 Apple hired William Stasior, who was head of search for Amazon’s A9 and formerly at Alta Vista. He’s currently VP, Siri at Apple. Then late last year an Apple webcrawler was detected. And yesterday we wrote about an Apple-linked vehicle that may be involved with Street-View like mapping data collection.

Apple has never publicly commented about any of these search-related efforts.

Behind the scenes and through multiple acquisitions Apple developed its mapping capability over a roughly three year time frame. It’s possible that Apple is building its own search engine for later introduction. Yet the company is unlikely to launch something “not ready for prime time” and face the kind of brand-scalding ridicule that it got when it prematurely launched Apple Maps in 2012.

Were Steve Jobs still alive it would be more likely that Apple would be moving aggressively away from Google. However Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs; so I think it’s 50/50 that Google will retain the Apple relationship. It will also depend in part on whether Google wants to keep paying Apple, by some estimates, over a billion dollars per year in revenue sharing for its position in mobile Safari.

Google might want to “roll the dice” and offer less to Apple to see whether Apple is prepared to move over to another provider. It could then lobby iPhone users aggressively to use the Google search app or switch Safari’s default setting manually to Google. It could then keep all the mobile search revenue coming from Safari-based mobile clicks.

If Google tried that gambit and succeeded it would save potentially more than $1 billion a year.

I would love to be a fly on the wall in the negotiations. I’m going to bet that Google will offers less to Apple and Apple will decide to go with Bing for default search on the iPhone. It has already partly socialized that with users through the earlier deals.

We’ll find out whether I’m right in the not-too-distant future.

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