There have been rumblings in the background for a while that Apple was working on a search engine, with the aim of going toe-to-toe with Google, and those rumblings have turned into whispers in recent weeks with some expecting an announcement sooner rather than later.
So, what does this mean for search optimisation and what can we expect from Apple’s search engine? Here’s what we know so far…
Years in the Making
Apple has been slowly showing signs that they have wanted to move into search for many years now. Way back in 2014, a new crawler was found trawling the net, and this crawler was named APPLE-WWNET. AppleBot mainly operates in the background to improve Siri and Spotlight search results, but a year later in 2015, Apple listed their own search ranking factors and further details on how their AppleBot would handle elements of search. The document states:
Apple Search may take the following into account when ranking web search results:
Aggregated user engagement with search results
Relevancy and matching of search terms to webpage topics and content
Number and quality of links from other pages on the web
User location-based signals (approximate data)
Webpage design characteristics
Apple looks to be following in the footsteps of Bing by using certain user engagement factors with its results, such as Click Through Rate – which Google documentation states they do not use such factors in their rankings. All of these factors make it feel like there is something more to this than is appearing on the surface.
Apple previously used Bing to power its Siri and Searchlight results, before moving to Google in 2017. This move isn’t the first collaboration between the two companies, with Google reportedly paying Apple billions of pounds (yep, billions!) a year to be the default browser on all of Apple products. In 2021, Apple paid $15bn to be the default search engine on the Safari browser, with this figure looking set to continue to rise into the future.
What’s more, this deal is also said to contain a caveat that Apple cannot launch a search engine of their own, limiting the competition for Google. The details of the deal that have gone public have left many feeling uneasy, raising issues of bias and stifling competition.
However, there is the argument that users are still free to select whichever search engine they want by default within their settings, and this is likely the defence that Google and Apple would take if questioned on the issue.
So, what does this mean for the relationship between Apple and Google? This is to be seen, but if Apple is willing to risk what is close to a fifth of their profits on launching a search engine, they must be confident!
What Does This Mean for SEO?
With a new search engine hoping to disrupt the market, what could this mean for SEO? It is likely that there will need to be specific strategies and tactics that are tailored to an Apple search engine and its associated products.
It’s also worth considering how quickly an Apple search engine will break into the market. According to recent figures (correct at the time of writing), Google holds over 92% of the global search engine market. For some context, Microsoft Bing was launched in 2009 and has managed to gain slightly over 3% of the worldwide market.
Looking at browsers, Safari holds a 19% worldwide share, which is a decent chunk that could help to put an Apple search engine in front of more eyes. If such a thing happens, there will be a shift from solely focussing on optimising for Google, but, until an Apple search engine launches and we find out how it works, it’s anyone’s guess!