Microsoft’s new search engine Bing has been making waves in the search market, adding new features and slowly chipping away at Google’s established search dominance. But smaller search engines have an uphill battle when it comes to toppling Google in search.

As Ask.com’s Barry Diller pointed out today, innovation in search often works toward Google’s advantage. Regardless of whether Google does the innovating.

Ask.com made headlines this week with some userface changes that reverted the site back to its earlier question and answer format. Furthermore, the site beat analyst expectations, growing 18% to $197.2 million. But IAC head Barry Diller had some candid words about Ask’s prospects during the company’s second quarter earnings call. According to PaidContent, he said:

“One thing I want to make clear to investors is that Ask itself
is not a large segment of the company. I had hoped it would become one,
but I was wrong about that. I was wrong about the competitive landscape
with Google.”

Ask.com is a small player in the search wars, but its problems are endemic. Diller continued:

“A lot of our new features that Ask has been sporting
has [sic] only helped the competition, as they’ve copied us at every turn and
they look a lot like Ask.”

That’s a problem that every search engine has to deal with. As soon as a new feature is available on one service, another search engine can just as easily emulate it. Just this month, Google updated its results page, image results and background pictures to look more like Bing’s.

But the advantage almost always goes to Google in these situations. If a smaller competitor simply set out to copy Google, they’d be hard pressed to steal Google’s users. But by incorporating newly developed features into its site, Google can retain usership numbers with much less effort.

Diller’s IAC has given up the ghost when it comes to search. As he said:

“We’ve learned that spending a lot of money on
marketing search products doesn’t get you very far. We’ve learned.”

Microsoft is not ready to give up yet. Last year, the software giant set aside $100 million to market Bing. So far, the site is making modest gains against Google. Bing now controls 12% of the search market online, compared to Google’s 62%. But getting a majority of users to switch to a newer (or simply different) search engine is no easy task. Especially when the competition’s brand name is synonymous with search.

Images: Bing vs. Google; searchnewz