Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
June 4, 200911:25 AM

In Search Of Excellence - The New Search Engine Wars

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.)

Best-selling business book author and marketing expert Seth Godin had an excellent blog post titled, The Next Google, where he said:

"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."

Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch took a different approach in his blog post titled, Apparently Bing Is Something Of A Hit:

"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:

- Montreal Gazette - Is there a Google Killer?
- Vancouver Sun - In search of excellence - Google still rules the Web.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Miles Langley
    Mitch Joel

    My mind is cast back to the days when Sony Playstation was the gaming powerhouse. Microsoft releases Xbox. It was a solid release, it changed the 'game' and pushed boundaries. And they did it again this week with Project Natal. (Halo and other proprietary games helped to drive this too)

    My thoughts over the past few days, resulting from changing my default search to Bing.com in order to give it a real world test, is along the lines of Seth Gordin's:

    We don't need another Google... Google is already doing a great job.

    Bing.com needed to change the game... not just their search definition to a Decision Engine'.

    Content (helped Xbox) and is the big draw card on the web these days... if you're a standard search engine then everyone has the same content to offer.

    At least WolframAlpha didn't try to compete with Google; they've tried something new

    Reply
  • Posted by Leonardo Souza
    Mitch Joel

    My first point is that I completely agree with Michael Arrington that no matter what the end result is, this will be better for the rest of the Internet. Competition forces players (even the big ones), to make changes, to adapt or risk losing its position.

    In regards to Seth Godin's post, it seems clear that he was commenting just on the product *announcement* for Bing, before having a look at the product itself. And without trying it out, you just can't judge its impact on the "search engine wars".

    I also have to disagree with the statement that "Google is not seen as broken by many people".

    Does Google have 73% of search market on the Internet? Yes.

    Is it an awesome product that people use and like? Most definitely.

    Is everybody happy with every single search that they do there? No, and you don't even have to use Microsoft's research to see that. Just take for example the hot trend of the moment: real time web (and search).

    Before Twitter, people were happy with their Google results, but they knew that to get fresh results for some recent news, they would have to go to Google News or some newspaper's website. And people just accepted that as a fact.

    But what happened after Twitter came along, and most of all, after search.twiter.com came along?

    People realized that there was a way to search for trends and recent news almost as fast as they happened, and they were thrilled by that.

    People got so thrilled with it that they started to question why their Google results couldn't have the same info. So they built their own solutions to address that need and after a while Google realized that they *must* do something about it too, as Larry Page just recentely said (when asked about Twitter):

    "I have always thought we needed to index the web every second to allow real time search. At first, my team laughed and did not believe me. Now they know they have to do it. Not everybody needs sub-second indexing but people are getting pretty excited about realtime." (http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/larry_page_on_real_time_google_we_have_to_do_it.php)

    This is just one example, but if one takes the time to check Microsoft's research on search user behavior, you can see that there is a need for better "information" (not only search results), for some queries. And that's what Microsoft is trying to tackle with this iniciative.

    So, I believe that the in the end, this is better for users, better for the market.

    Just my (long) 2 cents.

    Best,
    Leo

    Reply
  • Posted by Leonardo Souza
    Mitch Joel

    (Disclosure: if you search through my previous articles on my blog, you will see that the company I work for - FAST - was acquired by Microsoft last year, so now I'm a Microsoft employee. With that said, my comments are mostly from the point of view of someone that works in the enterprise search market and who has been using/following these Internet trends over the last 10 years. I have no contact whatsoever with the Bing team.)

    Reply
  • Posted by Amod Munga
    Mitch Joel

    Google is going to be the first choice search-engine for a while yet, simply because of its easy-to-use, fuzzy-logic (which makes it perfect for less-than-cutting-edge users) and its extended suite of services beyond search (Mail, Reader etc). It may not return the answers you want all the time but it's pretty forgiving - unlike Wolfram Alpha (which is a lot like asking the class nerd for an answer to a simple maths question and getting a lecture in quantum physics instead).

    By contrast, a search engine like Aardvark has moved the search goalposts slightly by making use of your extended social media networks (Facebook, Gmail). Any normative query (e.g. the best place for sushi, Xbox vs PS3, the name of that guy in that movie with Julia Roberts and the pelican etc) is fed out to your network for an answer. The idea is that you are asking people you know/trust for their opinion as opposed to asking a "faceless" individual (who may or may not be a shil for a company) via Google for an answer. Interestingly, Aardvark makes use of Google chat for real-time search results - where you can both ask and answer questions. You can find out more at the website (http://vark.com). It's a different way of getting the information you want and that's why it could work - but it won't kill Google.

    And Bing won't kill Google either. Displaying results in a different way won't help (as Cuil learned, the hard way). You need to find a different source for results like Aardvark or maybe the answer lies in being a specialist search-engine like Wolfram.

    I think the world already has its SEARCH engine (hell, the global zeitgeist has turned Google into the term for "search"). What we need are more targeted source/result engines. Godin is right: be the "other", not the "new".

    Reply
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