Not many brands become verbs, as in "I googled [fill in the blank] last night." Nielsen/NetRatings' January 2007 report found that more than half of all Web queries in the United States in that month went through Google. The second-most-popular engine, Yahoo Search, garnered less than half that amount.
Which led us to wonder: Does Google deserve all that traffic, or is it living off its reputation? Are people using it because they're not aware of other, potentially better search engines? To find out, we pitted Google against its big-name competitors, Yahoo and Microsoft Live Search, as well as against smaller challengers such as AlltheWeb, AltaVista, and Ask.com--plus a couple dozen of the specialty search services, including Blogdigger, Picsearch, and TubeSurf.
Our verdict? Google is indeed the best search engine, even though two other services topped it--barely--in our text-search tests. Google's index proved to be the most accurate, comprehensive, and timely of the bunch. It also bested the majority of the specialty-search sites we tried, meaning those that focus on a category or file type, such as videos, images, news, blogs, or local info delivered on a mobile phone.
Recent enhancements to Live Search's mobile component moved that service into the lead in our test searches for local information, although you have to navigate manually to its mobile-optimized site rather than being redirected automatically when you log in from a cell phone or other handheld device (see our charts throughout this story for details).
That said, the competition is fierce--and Google had better stay on its toes. Its challengers are implementing some innovative tools and interface upgrades (Ask.com is particularly impressive in this area) that enhance the user experience and deliver more relevant information than do the standard ten blue links on a results page. We also like several useful tools that can help you go beyond the basics of search.