Search Engines Should be Able to Guide Consumers to Search Preference Menus

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This is the ninth in our series of posts about search preference menus.

  • Consumers deserve a competitive search market where the search engines they want are actually “just one click away.”
  • A properly designed search preference menu can accomplish “one click away” search competition if search engines have an easy way to guide consumers to the menu.
  • The current search preference menu in Europe lacks this feature. The user sees it during onboarding when first activating the device, and then the only way to get back to the menu is to “factory reset” the device to the initial state, erasing all device data and settings.

Today it takes over 15 clicks to change your search engine across an Android device, including downloading a new app, updating the search widget on your home screen to the widget that comes with the app, and then changing the search default in your default browser.

Consumers deserve a better method where alternative search engines are actually “just one click away.” To accomplish this, we have been proposing a search preference menu that empowers consumers to easily switch search engines, significantly increasing competition. This series has focused on many aspects of a properly designed search preference menu such as visual design, including all eligible search engines, and not charging search engines to appear.

Another key aspect is that competing search engines should have an easy way to guide consumers to the search preference menu.

Screenshot of the DuckDuckGo Search website showing a callout link to a proposed search preference menu.
Proposal for search engine guided launch path to preference menu.

Right now, for example, Google’s search preference menu in Europe is shown to consumers just once, on initial device setup. Believe or not, the only way to get back to it thereafter is to erase all data on the device through a hard “factory reset,” returning the device to an initial device setup state.

That means, for all practical purposes, if you want to change your default device search engine again easily, you can’t. You’re back to the over-15-clicks method, which we know from experience trips up almost everyone. In other words, one click competition becomes in fact "one factory reset away." The only reasons we can think of for setting up a preference menu this way are anti-competitive ones.

The sensible approach is to give users an easy pathway to the search preference menu by letting them tap a link from a search engine app or website within the default browser (e.g., Chrome). With that simple tap, the user is whisked directly to the search preference menu.

Not allowing competing search engines to easily guide consumers back to the search preference menu is a pretty big dark pattern because it is requiring users to make an important choice when they often aren’t ready to do so, and then not giving them the option to easily change their mind later while using a competing search engine.

When setting up a device, a user goes through over a dozen screens and may not be in the frame of mind to change their search engine. By contrast, they are much more likely to select an alternative after they just downloaded a search engine’s app or navigated to their website.

So, to anyone considering implementing a search preference menu, or drafting regulations covering search preference menus, please ensure that consumers can access it at any time, especially after a consumer has just chosen to use a competing search engine. That is, just showing it during onboarding and including additional access via device settings is not enough because of the power of defaults, and, from our experience, it is difficult for consumers to navigate the many layers of device setting menus.

Functionality that allows competing search engines to guide consumers directly to the preference menu is necessary for consumer empowerment and search market competition.

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Search Engines Should be Able to Guide Consumers to Search Preference Menus
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