Yahoo search steps up in US with Firefox deal

Switching Firefox browser users' default search engine from Google pushes Yahoo's share of searches up 2 percentage points at the expense of its main rival.

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3 min read

Yahoo's search share perked up over the last two months after a deal with Mozilla steered away traffic that previously went to Google.
Yahoo's search share perked up over the last two months after a deal with Mozilla steered away traffic that previously went to Google. StatCounter

Yahoo's deal with Firefox maker Mozilla seems to have reversed years of hard times trying to reclaim its search-engine popularity lost to rival Google.

Under the late-2014 deal, US Firefox users see search results from Yahoo instead of Google unless they specifically set their browser's search-engine preference. Because of that, Yahoo searches in the US have increased from 8.6 percent share in mid-November, when the deal was announced, to 10.9 percent two months later, according to Web analytics firm StatCounter.

That share is the highest in five years, StatCounter said. Google, meanwhile, fell from 77.3 percent to 74.8 percent over the two-month period, and Microsoft's Bing search engine rose slightly from 12.1 percent to 12.4 percent.

"Some analysts expected Yahoo to fall in January as a result of Firefox users switching back to Google. In fact, Yahoo has increased US search share by half a percentage point," compared to December, said StatCounter Chief Executive Aodhan Cullen in a statement.

It's good news for Yahoo, which has struggled under multiple CEOs to reclaim its past glory on the Internet. Internet searching is a core part of daily Internet life and business, and more than a decade ago, Yahoo led the industry. CEO Marissa Mayer, who years ago oversaw Google's search business, is the latest charged with injecting vigor into a Yahoo brand that's become comparatively tired.

With so much online searching -- more than 100 billion searches a year through Firefox alone -- even a small increase in searches can be important. That's because search engines derive revenue from ads shown alongside search results, and it can be a very profitable business. Yahoo wants that revenue and profit as it seeks something to excite investors now that it's selling its investment in Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba.

What's not clear, though, is how profitable how the deal is for Yahoo. The company, like Google before it, is paying Mozilla for the search traffic.

Mozilla and Yahoo didn't detail terms of their deal, but it's not cheap. In 2012, Google paid Mozilla about 90 percent of its $302 million in revenue. That was for a global deal, though.

"We do not comment on third-party metrics," Yahoo said in a statement Monday. "However, we're excited about the partnership and are looking forward to continuing to work together with Mozilla to push the technology forward."

And the partnership as it stands today shouldn't be considered its final form. "The agreement also provides a framework for exploring future product integrations and distribution opportunities to other markets," Yahoo said. "The deal also represents the most significant partnership for Yahoo in five years."

StatCounter gathers data from a network of 3 million Web sites that have installed its analytics software. The software can track which browser a Web site visitor is using and, for some searches, the search engine that led the user to that Web page.

StatCounter said the Yahoo search boost came exclusively from Firefox users. In the US, the percentage of Yahoo searches performed with the Mozilla browser rose from 9.9 percent in November to 28.3 percent in January while Google's percentage dropped from 81.9 percent to 63.9 percent. Meanwhile, looking at all other browsers, Google's search share was unchanged.

To capitalize fully on the Mozilla deal, Yahoo and its partner, Bing, will have to keep those search users happy with fast, accurate, comprehensive results. Google is expanding into everything from power-generating kites to self-driving cars, but it maintains a strong focus on its core search business. In recent years, it's been begun sometimes answering search queries directly on its search results pages without referring users to other websites.

Updated at 11:58 p.m. PT with comment from Yahoo.