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Is the search game over? Has Google (GOOG) already won the war against its competitors? Following the sketchy tech earnings of 4Q12 in late January, it was clear that investors would seek a safe haven from volatility while still wanting to stay invested in the tech space, and in that instance, Google was the play.

Yahoo! (YHOO - Analyst Report) has seen its stock come back to life after it tapped former Google employee Marissa Mayer to the new CEO. The anticipation of a potential windfall from an Alibaba IPO has also impacted shares. When it comes to search, the story is far less pretty.

Mister Softee as it’s called by traders, or Microsoft (MSFT - Analyst Report) as it’s known by almost everyone else has seen market share increase, but its come at significant costs. After a great strategic move in its attempted acquisition of Yahoo!, it may lose its search deal with the company and faces stiff pressures from several other spots

Phoning It In

Yahoo! has by and large stayed out of the phone wars. They have opted to remain more of a content and technology company that is agnostic to the device that consumers use.

Microsoft, on the other hand does have a stake in the phone wars. They have the windows operating system out on some select phones, but they are far behind the market leaders Apple and Google.

A big winner in the mobile phone business has been Google. Its android operating system has grown substantially is a short amount of time. Most reports have Google leading Apple in terms of mobile market share by a 70-30 margin.

The importance of the phone wars is very high, and a primary reason that Google gives away is operating system for free. They want to be on the devices people use to search the web, and when mobile search pricing improves, Google will stand to have the most to gain. Below is chart of mobile search market share from netmarketshare.com.

The thing to note from this chart is the market share difference between Yahoo and Bing (MSFT - Analyst Report).

Searching on the Reg

Desktop searches are still the bread and butter of the search industry. It is far and away larger and more profitable than the mobile segment of the business.

When we look at the market share breakdown for desktop searches, we see that Google increases its lead over the competition.

2 3's vs a 2

Right now, both Yahoo! and Microsoft are Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) stocks, while Google is a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). One the major components of the Zacks Rank is the trend of earnings estimates, so let's take a look at the how each one has been trending.

Microsoft has seen its estimates consistently tick lower throughout 2012. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2013 earnings peaked at $3.09 in June 2012, but then tumbled to $3.01 in September and closed the year at $2.88. The current estimate is calling for $2.84 for 2013.

Yahoo! has seen a better picture, but still one that is not what most investors that focus on earnings are looking for. Over the same time period mentioned above, YHOO has seen its Zacks Consensus Estimate move from $1.08 to $1.13 and then closing the year out at $1.12. The current Zacks Consensus Estimate for YHOO is all the way back to $1.08 for 2013.

Thing aren't much different for Google. Estimates have moved from $44.42 to $41.83 and closed the year at $38.92. The current Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2013 is $38.38. The difference here is that the current estimate is up from a bottom $38.06 in February, where as the other companies are not seeing that same "uptick."

Conclusion

Google is mostly search, but it has it fingers in a lot of pies. Yahoo has a potential windfall coming right around the corner in the form of an IPO from Alibaba as well as new leadership. Microsoft continues to try to gain mind share and market share in the online world. At this point, the clear winner has been Google and given its higher rank and almost a defensive style name in technology, it might be the best investment of the three during 1Q13 earnings.

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Brian Bolan is a Stock Strategist for Zacks.com. He is the Editor in charge of the Zacks Home Run Investor service, a Buy and Hold service where he recommends the stocks in the portfolio

Brian is also the editor of Follow The Money Trader a trading service that tracks institutional money flows and looks for great stock picks from that data.

Follow Brian Bolan on twitter at @BBolan1

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