Search Engines, Brand and Inertia

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Search Engines, Brand and Inertia
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A body at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. Is this happening in the Search World?

What’s interesting from my point of view are the following:

  • According to Jason Dowdell’s research, Google is lowest in terms of unique search results yet retains its leadership position
  • Other studies and analysts have similarly suggested that the difference in quality among search results has all but disappeared
  • Google’s
    market leadership position has remained basically unchanged during a
    time of furious competition and search product innovation

I think these pieces of information are evidence that Google’s
leadership is no longer about a better user experience, it’s about
brand (nothing new here) and inertia. People are familiar and
comfortable with Google. And the willy-nilly product rollouts/upgrades
(toolbar, desktop, image search, local, personalization, etc.) help
reinforce that inertia for different consumer-user segments.

What about data that reflect little or no loyalty to search engines? People may indeed use multiple engines, but that apparent lack of “loyalty” is probably a reflection of primary and secondary engine choices rather than true fluidity.

What I wonder, though, is the affect of the techies on the equation. If it wasn't for the uber geeks recommending Google, would they even be in the position they are? And if they did have a positive influence on Google, can they reverse it by complaining?


Complaints won't change much

Complaining will have little effect on the present landscape unless it is accompanied by positive suggestions about what people could change TO.

Privacy Scares

Privacy...and, more specifically, the average searcher's concept of web privacy...will be Google's biggest opportunity to unweight the perception of its brand. The whole "largest aggregator of knowledge in history" thing sounded pretty damned cool until we all started figuring out what that really meant. Words like "privacy" are the quickest way to get somebody using another product. It's like "steroids" in Mark McGwire's road to the Hall of Fame or "causes cancer in lab mice" to a really successful soft drink's sweetener. There are very few public relations concepts that can completely reverse momentum, but "privacy" is up there with these other examples.

MSN and Yahoo will introduce features and stickier branding opportunities surrounding their portal users, but Google itself is probably the only market force that could do itself in within the next 18-24 months. Do I think they will? No. Do I see myself rooting for MSN more and more every day? For some reason, yes.


I don't find myself rooting for MSN. But I do find myself rooting against google more and more everyday.

Newton's Laws of Motion

As an ex-physicist, I feel I am dealing in mixed metaphors here, but what the heck.

Whilst accepting that Newton's first law does state that a body in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. Look at his other two laws

2. The second law states that the acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables - the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object.

For a big mass (Google) you need a big force

but his third law states

3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Make what you will out of that!

the tide always turns

I'm not rooting against Google at all, but I think they need to wake up pretty quickly.

All companies which get successful and get large then find people turn against them. I'm sure MS were pretty popular initially ? (wasn't really involved with computing until 8 or 9 years ago so I don't know but I suspect at one point everyone loved them). Nestle, IBM, every big company in the world has a group of people who hate them for a living.

It's how you handle this stuff that counts and back to banging the 'they don't get it drum' Google just needs a little more awareness of what pissing certain groups of people off can do. I very much doubt that Google will die, and I don't want it to, but with fast growing markets and fast growing viable competition it may start to struggle unless it has a master plan.

Of course the 'Gurtie Advanced Google Conspiracy Theory' states that Google making friends in China was a masterstroke and makes the views of a few SEO types largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. I'm not sure if I was Google I'd care much about us either. After all if another Search Engine comes along which has a bigger index and is as profitable to SEO for would we not all instantly switch? And would we not have done that anyway however much Goog were not being evil?

Promotion is reciprical

MSN and to a lesser degree Y! have a uniques shot at capturing the same buzz that google did via ad pricing.

Googles main buzz was the man on the street webmaster/small business owner who promoted google as a way of promoting themselves, the mantra was "use google" the reason was "you'll find me".

Lets say MSN decides to go with nickel clicks, the tide could turn in a fairly rapid fashion. MS kills two birds with one stone, captures ad market share and webmaster mind share, the rest of it is on auto pilot.

Results may be similar...

But no other search engine's main home page has a clean interface. Sure, the main search page at (or wherever it is) is clean, but isn't. Same with MSN, and Ask Jeeves. I think that in and of itself makes a big difference.

Google isn't impregnable ...

... what is?

But most of the "research" so far is either people proving what they set out to prove (Coincidence Research), or finding Google failing on one aspect, and writing as if it fails on all (Selective Research).

I've seen no evidence that Google results are worse on any useful measure, and anything claiming M$N to be 'better' at this early stage is silly (to put it politely).

Anyone believing it may care to forward their calendar from April 1 to May 1.

remember netscape?

I still think MSN hasn't gone balls out in the search game. When they do, they'll hit Google hard, as they'll be integrating their operating system, chat, browser, etc with their search technology. I think Google will hurt a little then. Also, Yahoo has an advantage in that it's also an ISP, and has masses and masses of consumer data available. When they start using that data, again Google will be behind.
Search is still young and I don't think the giants have taken out all their guns yet.

It's too soon for anything to shake up Google's world

For all intents and purposes, Microsoft just got into the game and they are still playing catchup.

They will have to be truly innovative, something Microsoft was actually never very good at, in order to knock Google off the top on their own merits.

If Google continues to tick off the tech-gurus, though, my feeling is that they will jump on the first cool bandwagon to come along. Something new, something different.

It won't be Yahoo!, Jeeves, or Microsoft who replaces Google. It will be someone else.

niche authority

In the beginning, MSN had a long way to go on authority, even general-keyword authority. But lately, I am finding stunning examples of niche authority at MSN, the kind of 'pure' sites you would never find in Google, not in a million searches. On these searches, you would be forgiven for thinking the MSN results were from the market leader, and the Google results were from the new engine where they are still feeling their way around the knobs.

Brand inertia

That's a really nice term, imho. The power of habits is really strong, you must actively work to break them - otherwise you simply do what you always do because that's the easiest.

I still think MSN hasn't gone balls out in the search game.

I agree. If and when MSN incorporates their search function into their operating system google will feel it in a big way. I also predict when MSN does this, they will incorporate *how* to use the search function in their advertising. When that happens, it'll be an interesting race.

Although, between now and then, I'd like to see another big contender in the race.

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