For several years, it’s been reported that Google pays billions of dollars to Apple to remain the default search engine on Safari for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. The deal ensures that iPhone, iPad, and Mac users search with Google when they use Safari. That is unless they manually change the default search engine in Safari’s preferences.
The deal between Apple and Google may be coming to an end soon. In July 2020, Reuters reported that the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority was taking aim at the deal.
Given the impact of preinstallations and defaults on mobile devices and Apple’s significant market share, it is our view that Apple’s existing arrangements with Google create a significant barrier to entry and expansion for rivals affecting competition between search engines on mobiles.U.K. Competition and Markets Authority Report
If the U.K. regulators take action, there may be a ripple effect from the European Union, which has a history of going after Google for anti-competitive behavior. Regulators in Europe may force Apple to remove Google as the default search engine and have users choose which search engine they want to use when they first launch Safari.
Why Apple might be launching a search engine
Regulatory pressure, a contentious relationship with Google, and the maturation of Apple’s Siri and iCloud are presenting an opportunity for Apple to create and launch a search engine. There are several signs right now that indicate Apple may be doing just that.
Apple doesn’t need Google’s money
Apple is now the world’s most valuable company. They may want the money Google gives them, but they don’t need it.
Apple is pouring resources and money into search
Apple is investing heavily in search, as shown in their job postings for search engineers. The job listings reveal they incorporate AI, ML, NLP, and more into all of their services and apps.
iOS and iPadOS 14 beta bypasses Google Search with Spotlight Search
It’s not clear if Apple uses Bing anymore, as results are labeled only as Siri Suggestions. It is clear that Apple has started to return search results within Spotlight Search and is completely bypassing Google altogether.
Apple recently updated its Applebot web crawler page
In July 2020, Apple published a significant update to its About Applebot support page. The additions are very similar to the details Google provides to webmasters and SEOs. Here are the changes they made to the Applebot support page.
- Added how to verify traffic from Applebot
- Expanded details on the Applebot user agent, including differences between its desktop and mobile version
- Expanded robots.txt rules
- Added a section stating that they don’t just crawl HTML, but also render pages similar to Google
- Added a section on search rankings and the factors that affect how it ranks web search results
Applebot has been busy crawling sites
Checking my server logs on WP Engine revealed that Applebot had been regularly crawling my sites daily, something I haven’t noticed until now.
What Apple has to gain from launching a search engine
A search engine from Apple will likely look and function slightly different from modern search engines like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo. That’s because Apple historically likes to do things differently, and their search engine will serve a different purpose than showing ads and data mining.
Based on Apple’s numerous search engineer job descriptions, and the continued consolidation of web and app results in Spotlight Search, an Apple search engine will likely function as a highly personalized data hub. It will be similar to Google Assistant on Android, but different since it (initially) won’t have ads, will be completely private, and have significantly deeper integrations with the OS.
One can imagine getting easy buy-in from users if they benefit from privacy, coupled with the seamless integration and personalization of their iCloud data. Apple can leverage AI and ML to deliver search results based on their email, messages, maps, events, reminders, notes, photos, files, contacts, music, news, TV shows and movies, third-party apps, documents, and more. And they can do it without ads and with the promise of real data privacy.
Apple has a lot to gain from this model. Some of the main benefits include:
- The promotion of apps in search results that will benefit Apple’s services and detract from Google’s push towards PWAs.
- A weakening of Google’s monopoly on search and a significant blow to its ad revenue and data mining.
- The promotion of Apple products and services. Including struggling services like Apple News+ and Apple TV+.
- Continued control and lock down of the Apple ecosystem. Users will become dependent on personalized search results with deep service and product integrations that are only possible via their search engine.
- The extension of their ad serving platform will allow app developers to promote their apps in search results.
What will this mean for SEO?
If Apple can capture enough market share, it will force SEOs to adapt and optimize for their search engine. In some ways, at least based on their Applebot documentation, tactics will remain the same. But SEOs can also expect to test and discover new opportunities that aren’t possible with Google or other modern search engines.
At this point, everything is based on observation and conjecture. They may never release a search engine. It’s also possible that iOS, iPadOS, and macOS users will be using it and not even be aware of it. It could be so tightly integrated into the operating system and native apps that alerts and Spotlight Searches slowly steal away queries that would have otherwise been made on Google.