Last July, a new search engine called Cuil made its way on to the market. As with anything and everything online, as soon as some kind of new platform, application or technology gets released, the initial knee-jerk reaction from the traditional media was to make the obvious comparisons between whatever the new service is and the 800-pound gorilla in the room (or online).
As you can well imagine, in this case, all of the conversation was around whether Cuil was going to be the "Google Killer." For weeks, there were articles and blog postings with titles like, "Will Cuil Kill Google?" and "Is Cuil the next Google?" This went on until Cuil was launched and the general consensus was a collective "nah." Not only was Cuil not a Google killer, it could hardly compare with some of the second-tier search engines on the market. In the end, Cuil got a ton of great PR that only reinforced something most of us knew: Google was still a very strong search engine and very tough to beat.
That's not a personal opinion. Just look at the stats. Presently, in the U.S., Google accounts for over 73 per cent of all searches done on the Internet and it accounts for more than 93 per cent of searches done on mobile devices. In terms of search, its market share is enormous. The other big (and obvious) players are Microsoft, Yahoo! and Ask.com.
This leads to the question: What will it take to topple Google?
During the first dot com explosion in the mid-'90s, there were countless articles on the "search engine wars." At the time, both Yahoo! and Microsoft were battling it out, while AOL was losing traction and Google was just coming on to the scene. To the surprise of many, Google came out on top and continued to gobble up market share. In a world where people wondered how anyone could compete with the media size of Yahoo! or the search power of Microsoft, a little start-up out of a Menlo Park, California, garage called Google shocked the industry (some might say that they continue to shock the world with consistent growth on the search side as well as innovation in other areas of the Internet).
Over the years, both Microsoft and Yahoo! have contended that they are working on newer search platforms and technology to dampen Google's ever-growing grip on what people use to do their online searching.
In the past few days, Microsoft has not only made some bold statements, but has actually jumped into the market with a renamed search engine. Microsoft Live is now called Bing. Online sources report that this is not just a simple rebranding effort, but that Microsoft is backing up their new search engine with over $100 million for marketing and communications. (Full disclosure: Microsoft is a client of Twist Image, but my agency has had nothing to do with its product launch.)
"Bing, of course, stands for But It's Not Google. The problem, as far as I can tell, is that it is trying to be the next Google. And the challenge for Microsoft is that there already is a next Google. It's called Google. Google is not seen as broken by many people, and a hundred million dollars trying to persuade us that it is, is money poorly spent. In times of change, the rule is this: Don't try to be the 'next.' Instead, try to be the other, the changer, the new."
"Whether Microsoft ultimately succeeds or not in 'winning' the search war, the competition is very good for the rest of the Internet. Google needs to be pushed to try innovating new things (not this). And search marketing competition will ensure that Google doesn't get too greedy. We don't need Microsoft to win, but we do need to avoid a world with just one search engine that matters. Maybe Microsoft can win that lesser war, at least."
As if that weren't enough excitement, two other search engines recently came online as well. WolframAlpha bills itself as a "computational knowledge engine" and acts as an amazing place to find answers to questions that require more calculation-like answers (e.g. - how far is Montreal from Copenhagen?), and Topsy - which is more of a social Web search engine that is able to list and rank conversations from places like Twitter and Digg.
What do consumers really want when it comes to search? Ultimately, we all want relevant results from a trusted provider. As the game changes (and it always does), it's going to be interesting to see who the real Google Killer is, or we'll see if Seth Godin is right and Google eventually eats itself.
If you're interested in learning more about search engine optimization and search engine marketing, Search Engine Strategies Toronto is taking place next week (June 8th - 10th, 2009), where I will be moderating a few panels on June 9th (so be sure to stop in say "hi").
The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here: