According to ComScore, Google's share in January was 52.6%, and by October, the most recent month with available data, that number had climbed to 58.5%. Others peg its share as even bigger: Hitwise has it at 65.1% in November, up from 64.1% in January.
In the meantime, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL all lost share, and Ask was the only gainer, up one-tenth of a percentage point. (It's not very likely, but things still could turn around in November and December, as those returns aren't in yet.)
"Google has really become the verb of search," said James Lamberti, senior VP at ComScore. "It's a combination of viral and branding power."
Pepsi vs. Coke
"If you did the equivalent of the Pepsi Challenge and had a blind taste test of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft results, I don't think people would find Yahoo's results are necessarily bad," said Ellen Siminoff, CEO of Efficient Frontier, a search-marketing-technology company. "But it comes down to branding. Google has done a heck of a job continuing to build its brand."
Absolute search numbers tell a different story. According to ComScore, only one search engine, AOL, declined in terms of total queries. Yahoo gained 5%, Google gained 37%, Microsoft sites gained 15% and Ask gained 24%.
So should marketers be worried? As the search category -- estimated at $8 billion in 2007 by Forrester -- becomes an increasingly important part of a marketing plan, the seeming consumer consolidation with one player arguably gives Google more control over the search experience.
"Marketers sure would like for someone to give Google a run for its money," Ms. Siminoff said. "There's lots of emotional support behind Microsoft and Yahoo." But, she said, "marketers aren't spending on Google because Google's a nice guy but because Google works for them."
It's worth noting that the share gains didn't manifest themselves only in consumer search-engine use. They carried over into ad spending. Efficient Frontier, which has $400 million under its management, said more than 73% of that went to Google in October of this year, up from 62% two years ago.
Looking for innovation
Google is not a monopoly -- yet -- but luckily for paid-search marketers, even if it were, price inflation is less likely thanks to Google's market-driven, auction-based pricing.
"Marketers just want to see the innovation," Mr. Lamberti said. "That's why there's buzz around Ask."
The search-share numbers illustrate another trend: Although portals still command huge audiences, they are no longer the center of consumer web experiences. The engines that rely more on portals will be the ones losing out because while portals may not be seeing huge declines, they aren't growing as fast as social networks and other Web 2.0 vehicles. And as portals become less important, those companies have to seek out ways to increase search share.
So where are the opportunities? In syndication deals, for one. Mr. Lamberti points to health portal WebMD, which "has really valuable search inventory," he said. Yahoo signed a deal earlier this year to sell that inventory.
International markets also present opportunities. Google is highly dominant in Europe but has struggled in Asia. Despite recent gains in Japan and India, it's still a relatively small player in China, where the most popular search engine is Baidu.