All Eyes on Apple as Google Search Deal Expires Next Year

Mozilla’s decision last week to replace Google with Yahoo as the default search engine for the Firefox browser in the U.S. was a nice little score for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.

But among companies still wringing billions of dollars a year from search ads, all eyes are on the upcoming expiration of the only search distribution deal that matters anymore: Apple’s Safari Web browser.

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A change by Apple also would be a big test of the value of being the default search engine in the first place. That’s because Google has had the benefit of both the default deal and the fact that it has a strong brand that people want to use, so it’s unclear how important the Safari default deal has been. After all, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer for years was the No. 1 Web browser on PCs (at least one research firm says it still is). It used Bing as its default search engine, but Bing didn’t appear to gain market share against Google.

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The gap between Google and Bing/Yahoo in terms of the perceived quality of its search results, particularly for more obscure or “long tail” queries, and ad prices is even bigger internationally than in the U.S.