Firefox deal continues to swing U.S. search toward Yahoo

Google's share of the U.S. search market fell further in January, an Irish metrics company said Monday, again attributing the decline to last year's change by Firefox to dump Google as the browser's default.

According to StatCounter, which tallies page referrals from search providers, Google's U.S. usage share slipped by four-tenths of a percentage point last month to end with 74.8%, the first time the massive search firm has dipped below the 75% mark since StatCounter began tracking usage in mid-2008.

Yahoo's usage share in the U.S., meanwhile, climbed to 10.9% in January from 10.4% in December.

Google's dip and Yahoo's blip last month were atop similar shifts in December 2014, but both the decline and increase were smaller in January.

Mozilla changed the default search from Google to Yahoo when it released Firefox 34 on Dec. 1. The Mozilla-Yahoo deal was a result of the former not renewing its long-standing partnership with Google, which in 2013 generated approximately $275 million in revenue for the open-source developer of Firefox.

Firefox continues to use Google as the default search engine in many markets, including much of Europe.

StatCounter said the changes in U.S. search usage share were all due to Firefox. "When we removed Firefox usage from the U.S. search data, Yahoo's gains and Google's losses were erased," said StatCounter CEO Aodhan Cullen in a Monday statement. "This highlights the importance of the default search option and the significance of the upcoming Safari search deal for the major players."

Cullen was referring to rumors that Apple might change Safari's default search provider from the current Google to another engine, perhaps Microsoft's Bing or Yahoo's. Some analysts have dismissed the talk as nothing but that, certain that for all Apple's distrust of its mobile OS rival, it fears customer backlash if it promoted another provider over the world's clear leader.

But while Cullen had a point regarding software defaults -- relatively few personal computer or mobile device users bother to change default settings even when they're available -- the statistics for Firefox usage of search also demonstrated the power of Google.

In January, said Cullen, Yahoo's usage on Firefox in the U.S. climbed to 28.3%, up slightly from December's 24.1%. Google-on-Firefox usage in the U.S. fell to 63.9% last month from 68% in December.

Thus, even two full months after Mozilla made the change to Yahoo, more than six out of every 10 users continued to search via Google.

When existing Firefox users first ran version 34, the browser displayed a pitch on a post-update landing page that asked whether the user wanted to try the new search engine or postpone the decision. And after a switch to Yahoo, Firefox users can also easily restore Google as the default.

Other measurement companies have also reported a decline in Google's share of the U.S. search market after the Mozilla-Yahoo deal. Two weeks ago, comScore said that Google lost 1.6 percentage points in December, slipping to 65.4%, as Yahoo gained the same 1.6 points, climbing to 11.8% in 2014's final month.

comScore won't report January's figures until around the middle of this month.

Google has tried to limit the damage by desertions with messages on its home page enticing Firefox users to return. U.S. Firefox users with Yahoo as the browser's default provider have been asked if they want to reset their home page to or if they would like to change their default to Google.

By StatCounter's data, Firefox accounted for 16.5% of all desktop U.S. browser usage during January, up from December's 15.6%, the largest one-month increase since April 2014. Worldwide, Firefox's usage share stood at 18.7% on the desktop.

Globally, Google's desktop search usage share actually climbed slightly in January, StatCounter's data showed, from 88% to 88.1%.


Gregg Keizer

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