Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) remained at the top of the search engine heap last month, according to Nielsen Online, serving the majority of the country's nearly 8 billion search queries. That isn't necessarily "stop the presses" kind of news. We all know that Big G is the top dog. What is surprising, though, is how quickly it is gaining market share, particularly at the expense of Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).

In a nutshell, as the chart below shows, Google is pulling away from its three nearest competitors. IAC's (NASDAQ:IACI) Ask.com and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) -- yes, even Comcast -- have grown nicely over the past year, but they don't pose much of a threat to Google, or even the three fading engines ranked above them in the near-term.

July

% Search

YOY Growth

Google

60.2%

16%

Yahoo!

17.4%

(11%)

MSN/Live

11.9%

(10%)

AOL Search

4.6%

(9%)

Ask.com

2%

13%

Comcast

0.6%

22%

Source: Nielsen Online

Google's secret sauce
Is Google that adept or is it just lucky? It's probably a little bit of both. Listen to the conference calls of any of its search rivals, and they will be quick to single out their technological advances. Ask.com even wrapped an entire marketing campaign around its allegedly superior algorithms.

It doesn't seem to matter. Google works. You don't need to worry about better mousetraps if your mousetrap still catches the rodent. Besides, since so much of this battle is subjective, we may never have a universal victor in terms of quality. Google owns the quantity game and that's what counts.

If that last comment sounded gluttonous, as if Google is the Golden Corral of search engines, it probably isn't far from the mark. Google's search engine is convenient, accessible, and never far away. That is by design.

If you're looking for Google's secret sauce, it actually rests in its success in selling ads against its queries. As the runaway champ in paid search, Google attracts the thickest pool of sponsors. That not only gives Google the biggest incentives to rule this space, but it also encourages third-party publishers to promote Google by joining its AdSense program, where viral magic populates the Web with "Ads by Google" marketing blocks and Google search boxes.

If the search engine industry was a NASCAR race, nearly every car would be draped in glossy Google bodywork.

The race for second place
With Yahoo! and Microsoft fading, it's starting to become clear that Microhoo would have only delayed the inevitable. Gradual irrelevance is the name of the game there. When even a Google partner like AOL is falling further behind, it proves that keeping your friends close and your Google closer is no elixir to obsolescence.

Don't read too much into the baby steps at Ask.com and Comcast. If they continue to improve, Google will smoke 'em too.

The only material upside to Google's competitors is that the company's pie-chomping growth will eventually limit its non-organic growth. For players with fat pockets like Yahoo! and particular Microsoft and Comcast, now is the time to work some consolidation magic, because Google will be hard-pressed to clear regulatory hurdles on any potential acquisition in the future.

"Shop until you drop" isn't much of a growth strategy, but it'll do in a pinch. A lot of beefy companies like CNET Networks and aQuantive have been snapped up over the past year, and we're really just counting the days until the search portal heavies buy up companies like Marchex (NASDAQ:MCHX) and ValueClick (NASDAQ:VCLK).

Google keeps getting bigger, so competition has little choice but to settle for niches as fringe players or bulk up.

Come to think of it, is it too late for Microhoo?

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a huge fan of Google and it would be his homepage if it weren't for Fool.com taking up that piece of real estate. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.