Is Google’s 20-year search dominance about to end?

Nestled in the hills of Mountain View, California, sits one of biggest profit pools in business history. The site is the home of Google, whose search engine has for the past two decades been humanity’s preferred front door to the internet—and advertisers’ preferred front door to humanity. Every second of every day, Google processes perhaps 100,000 web searches around the world—and, thanks to its “PageRank” algorithm, serves up uncannily relevant answers. That has conferred onto Google verb status. It also adds up to billions of daily opportunities to sell ads that the searchers see alongside the results of their queries. The results’ accuracy keeps users coming back, and rivals at bay: all other search engines combined account for barely a tenth of daily searchers (see chart 1).

Advertisers pay handsomely for access to Google’s users, not least because they are typically only charged when someone actually visits their website. The revenue of Google’s parent…

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