Each search engine, like each web browser, has its own quirks. This rule holds when it comes to rankings and search engine optimization (SEO). A website that is optimized for Google may not be perfectly optimized for Bing or Yahoo!. The question is, which search engine should SEO efforts be focused on?

Which Search Engine Is Most Popular?

There are several scales by which to judge a search engine’s popularity. You can look at global web searches or you can break the searches down by region. You could look at the popularity of a particular search engine by demographics like ethnicity, age, or occupation. You could even break down the popularity of a search engine by industry or product. If your business caters only to clients from a certain industry, area, or demographic, then it may be worth knowing which search engines they are most likely to use.

According to the numbers, Google is the world’s most popular search engine, commanding roughly two-thirds (~68.75%) of all search traffic. It is followed by Baidu (a Chinese company) at about 8% and then by Yahoo, Yandex, Bing, and a number of other smaller engines. In the United States, the rankings differ because engines like Yandex and Baidu aren’t widely used. The ranking for the U.S. goes in the order of Google, Bing, Yahoo!, Ask, and AOL. In China, the trend is just the opposite, with Baidu commanding more than 71% of all traffic and Google accounting for only about 2.33%.

Google Is the Obvious Answer…Isn’t It?

For basic SEO, it is clear that Google should be the primary target of most efforts. After all, it commands most of the web traffic in the world and so outranks other search engines to such a degree that they can be safely ignored, right? Well, not so fast.

Gaining rank on Google means competing against the best SEO the industry has to offer. If you are a smaller business in an industry with a lot of competition, you may not be able to afford the kind of SEO that will push you to the first page or even second page, let alone to the top of the rankings if you target Google. On the other hand, optimizing for Bing and Yahoo! may be much cheaper and still bring in the kind of business you are looking to generate by putting you at the top of their results.

Don’t just base your SEO decisions on the size of the search engine, consider other factor like the needs of your website and business. If your goal is to generate a few hundred leads rather than a few thousand from search engines, then Bing and Yahoo! Might be your most cost-effective options.

Cater to Your Locality

Many businesses operate on a local or regional scale. Knowing which search engine is popular in your particular region can help you to focus your SEO efforts. Consider the fact that while Bing has a roughly 8% market share across the U.S., it commands 14.68% of market share in North Dakota, 13% in Delaware, and 12% in Iowa and New Mexico. Yahoo! is popular in the South and Midwest.

One study found that Delaware was the least likely state to use Google, ironic given that Google is actually incorporated there (for tax reasons). This fact, along with considerations like those in the section above, should be taken into account when optimizing your website. If your goal is simply to create a little more local buzz, then targeting Bing may be far more cost effective and still generate the kind of results you want.

Trends

You need to follow trends in website popularity to get a grip on what the future might hold. If Bing or Yahoo! starts to gain on Google, then having optimized your site for those search engines early in the transition may give you a boost against competitors. In other words, already being optimized for Bing before it gets popular may mean better ranking for your site than if you try to optimize after Bing gets popular. This obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but it is worth considering.

You Don’t Have to Choose

The truth of the matter is that you don’t have to choose one over the other. First, there are many similarities in SEO between one engine and the next. For instance, Google and Bing both place a lot of emphasis on PageRank and link authority. Both also offer local search results and paid search results. By optimizing for one, you automatically optimize for the other.

In some cases, optimizing for Bing may be a bit harder, but won’t detract from your Google optimization. A good example of this is keywords. Google is great at pulling at synonyms and at understanding context, which makes it very easy to generate SEO content for Google. Bing isn’t as adept at these things, so you have to be more stringent in how you create content for Bing. The upside is that content created for Bing will rank just as high in Google as if created directly for Google. In other words, you can target Bing and be covered with Google.

Other factors that differ between Google and other search engines include ambiguous search queries, domain age, page authority, and flash content. For the first three, you can optimize for Bing and be covered on Google. With flash content, you have to choose. Google doesn’t like Flash whereas Bing will give a boost to pages with Flash content.

What About Yahoo!

Yahoo! comes in third in the United States, but that just means that it is easier to optimize for. Like Bing, many of the things you optimize for Yahoo! will be covered by Google (and Bing too for that matter). The biggest difference between Yahoo! and Bing is that Yahoo! is probably on a downward trajectory, so you needn’t spend too much time on it.

One Last Caveat

If you neglect Bing and Yahoo! because you are happy with your Google rank, you could end up regretting the decision if Google changes its algorithm and you get bumped to a lower rank. The result of this catastrophe could be the loss of all of your search engine traffic! Even if your primary targets aren’t Bing and Yahoo!, you should optimize for them as a kind of insurance against the whims of Google and its algorithm updates.

Putting It Together

The message is this. Optimize first for everything that is common to all search engines. After that, optimize for those things that Bing favors and that Google doesn’t care much about. Finally, when it comes to making a choice, decide what your target audience is and what your goals are for search engine results. If your target audience loves Bing, optimize for Bing. If you live in an area where Bing is popular or you want to generate some traffic but don’t care if you generate huge amounts, optimize for Bing. Finally, consider your budget. You may actually get more bang for your buck by optimizing for Bing and not competing against the deep pockets of companies that optimize for Google.