The search engine world has been growing exponentially since the internet became more and more widespread. While many search engines have come and go, Google has been constant and has grown into the world’s largest search engine.
It’s not that other search engines lack something—people have just become accustomed to and dependent on Google.
As a result, other search engines have had a hard time competing against Google, especially when it comes to taking Google’s market share.
However, when a trillion-dollar company with more than a billion devices across the world plans on developing a search engine, things start to get really interesting.
This article focuses on the Apple Search Engine, Applebot, and how it can give Google a run for its money.
The Current Search Engine Scene
If you ask ten daily internet users about their go-to search engine, nine out of ten will name Google. According to Statista, as of October 2020, Google has a market share of 88.14 percent. More importantly, Google has retained this market share over the years.
It’s at a point where marketers and users ask themselves: is Google a monopoly? The answer to that question is complicated and subjective, but one can most certainly deem Google a monopoly.
Other search engines like Bing rely on being the default search engine in millions of Windows devices. Baidu and Yandex rely on providing region and language-specific results. Yahoo purely relies on its legacy. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other dedicated search engines that target a niche rather than the general user.
For example, Com.com is a dedicated question-answering search engine, and DuckDuckGo is known for offering privacy.
In any case, most of the other search engines rely on a certain factor to attract users. None of these search engines have been able to target a massive part of the internet-using population effectively, yet.
What Search Engine Does Apple Currently Use?
Up until now, Apple has relied on Google as its default search engine. In fact, a recent Reuters report discovered that Google paid Apple $1.5 billion to be the default search engine on Apple devices in the United Kingdom.
I wouldn’t be surprised if more similar deals came to light. After all, Apple has a massive following and paying a few billion dollars to be the default search engine is likely to provide a substantial return on investment.
However, Apple doesn’t offer exclusivity to Google. In fact, on the company’s official browser, Safari, it makes a point on private browsing. The company distinctly mentions that you can use a built-in search engine, DuckDuckGo, that doesn’t track you and makes your web searches completely private.
It wouldn’t be outlandish to deduce that these actions show that Apple has been trying to make a search engine for years.
Applebot is Apple’s web crawler that is used by products such as Siri and Spotlight Suggestions. While Apple hasn’t directly mentioned Applebot, they posted a help document after people speculated about the existence of Applebot.
The document lists several things, starting with how you can identify Applebot. You can use the host command given to determine whether a given IP address is part of Applebot. It also provides ways to verify the Applebot user agent using the user-agent string.
Furthermore, the page also explains the robot.txt rules; Applebot respects standard robots.txt directives and doesn’t crawl documents deemed /private/ or /not-allowed/. More importantly, if there are no directives for Applebot, but there are instructions for Googlebot, Applebot will follow Googlebot instructions.
The page also mentioned customizing indexing rules for Applebot, including meta tags in HTML documents. Applebot also supports noindex, nosnippet, nofollow, none, and all directives.
Lastly, the document lists the factors taken into account for search ranking, including the following:
- Web page design and characteristics
- Overall relevancy of search terms with any given web page’s content
- Combined and aggregated user engagement with the search results
- The number of quality backlinks from other pages
- User location-based signals
According to Applebot programming, the crawl bot may only use the above factors to determine rankings and avoid any other pre-determined factors.
The Apple Search Engine
The primary concern for Apple when it comes to search engines is privacy. According to Apple CEO, Tim Cook, Apple has developed a good browsing experience with private web browsing, intelligent tracker prevention, and more.
However, Google doesn’t exactly share Apple’s privacy stance, and other search engines like Bing or Yahoo don’t either. Apple technically compromises on its privacy stance to offer a better and more relatable user experience through Google.
This is precisely why Apple introduced DuckDuckGo as a built-in search engine option—DuckDuckGo does not collect, store, track, or share any private information.
Ultimately though, Apple devices are still at the behest of external search engines.
However, Apple is expected to launch its search engine soon. Some of the reasons for this expectation include the following:
- It makes sense for Apple to develop its own search engine since it is now the world’s most valuable company. It has well over a billion devices across the world. The growth, magnitude, and sheer financial gain from a dedicated search engine would overshadow anything Google can pay them.
- Apple is pouring a lot of resources into search; a good indicator of this is the number of job postings they have for search engineers on their job board.
- The company recently updated the Applebot page, including various details similar to what webmasters and SEOs need to know to rank better.
- In recently updated devices (iOS 14 beta), Spotlight Search is completely bypassing Google search altogether.
- Many users have reported noticing in their server logs that Applebot has been regularly crawling their websites.
All of these things point towards an Apple search engine in the pipeline. It may be that Apple implements Spotlight Search as a dedicated search engine, or it may come up with something entirely new.
What Will Apple Gain from Releasing an Apple Search Engine?
While from the outside, one would quote monetary gain as the primary reason for releasing the Apple search engine, there are plenty of other notable reasons, as well.
- The company would have more control over how their users rank. To emphasize this, Apple can focus on ranking factors that oppose those used by Google and other search engines, thus, creating a unique community, or brand, within the search engine world. As a result, we might see websites that are only optimized for the Apple search engine because their target market is Apple users. It would also make plenty of other websites make a choice between Apple and other search engines, giving birth to new websites, SEO techniques, and more. The entire process will provide Apple a ton of publicity, marketing, and further reinforce its brand.
- Privacy concerns would no longer be an issue since the Apple search engine’s primary directive would revolve around privacy.
- Google has been moving towards Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)—PWAs don’t require an internet connection if you’ve visited the site before. The concept goes against Apple’s privacy stance, and Apple can avoid the progression with a dedicated search engine.
- Apple can promote apps and products that benefit Apple’s services. They can even directly promote their products and services, including Apple TV and Apple News.
- There is a good chance the Apple search engine will severely weaken Google’s monopoly on search.
- A dedicated ad platform will allow iOS app developers to promote their apps more. It would exacerbate the importance of iOS-only app developers, providing a broader Apple ecosystem.
While these implications are just the tip of the iceberg, it’s hard to pin down the more indirect effects of an Apple search engine.
General Impact of the Apple Search Engine
If the Apple search engine becomes a reality, there are some general things you can expect to happen, such as the following:
- A shift in strategy from Google, while other major companies, such as Amazon, Intel, and Samsung might try to enter the search business.
- Various smartphones and mobile devices that imitate Apple’s operating system may try to make the Apple search engine the default.
- Bigger app store with more apps.
- People may spend more on iCloud storage.
- Significant loss of ad revenue for Google compared to last year.
- Updated Safari browser with more direct Siri suggestions, better web search results, and better integration of things like Apple Maps.
- Increased demand for iMacs, Macbook Air and Pro, iPads, and other Apple devices.
- Other web browsers, such as Google Chrome, may introduce more options.
- A major change in the machine learning industry.
While the general impact of the Apple search engine may be even bigger, it’s also important to note how it would affect SEO.
The Apple Search Engine’s Impact on SEO
The Apple search engine would be very different from traditional search engines. It would emphasize privacy, be free of external ads, and would likely be directly rooted in the iOS system.
When Bing launched their search engine, many people predicted that it would wrack up a good chunk of the search market share. However, while Bing managed to take much of Yahoo’s market share, it could hardly compete with Google.
The Apple user base is entirely different, and so is the Apple brand and its offerings. There is a noticeable difference in Android, Microsoft Windows, and Linux users from iOS (iPhone, iPadOS, and Apple Watch) and MacOS users.
In any case, according to current Applebot rules, ranking systems aren’t so different from Google. However, there’s a good chance that when Apple officially launches the Apple search engine, its ranking factors may change.
If that happens, SEOs would have to develop new tactics, strategies, and playbooks to rank on the Apple search engine and other search engines at the same time.
All in all, while the evidence is strong, it’s all pretty much based on conjecture. According to Jon Henshaw from Coywolf, there is a very real possibility that the Apple search engine doesn’t see the light of day, at least directly. It may be deeply integrated into Apple devices and operating systems to slowly move users away from Google.
The Bottom Line
Over the years, Apple has developed a very strong brand image and has mastered the art of brand affinity. Meanwhile, it has grown into a two trillion-dollar company, making it the most valuable private entity in the world.
With millions of loyal customers and tons of devices, the Apple search engine is bound to be successful if it launches. There’s a good chance that it may attract non-Apple users towards the company.
There is no question in Apple’s technical and financial ability to develop such a search engine.
In any case, if the Apple search engine becomes a reality, it would be a severe blow to Google’s search monopoly. More importantly, it would change the dynamics of SEO, digital marketing, and more.