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Why it’s hard to care about new search engines

I regularly am asked to look at new search engines, and because I have been working with search technology since the ’80s (yeah, I know I’m old), I am interested. I am a search geek and it’s fun. But, if you’re an Internet marketer, I think it’s harder and harder to care about any search engine other than Google. And it’s especially hard to care about new search engines. There are several reasons why this is so.


The first is simple market share. Over the past few years, Google has gone from holding a slight lead over Yahoo! to some analysts awarding it 70% or more of U.S. searches, with similar dominating positions in many other countries. In some countries it is virtually the only search engine—in Scandinavia, for example. So, marketers should care only about the search engines that reach their target markets.
But that’s too simplistic, because market dominance is never enough to win the technology game. Just ask AOL. And because I am so old, I’ve seen lots of dominating positions fall, so it would seem that smart marketers should be on the lookout for “the next Google,” right? I don’t think so.
Some argue that Google is so good at what it does that there’s no way for another search engine to come along that does it one better. But I don’t believe that.
Others argue that Google’s dominance of the ad market is so thorough—its profit share is far higher than its share of searches because it monetizes better than its rivals—that a superior search engine won’t succeed even if it comes along. There might be some truth in that, but I think there’s a simpler reason that new search engines are uninteresting to the average marketer.
It pains me to say this, as an old-time search guy, but I think that the market has moved on from search. Search has been the way for this generation of Web users to interact with the Internet, but the next generation will likely move on to something new and better. Oh, people will always search for things, but search is likely to become a feature of a larger environment, rather than the focus of a separate thing you do.
So, what is that larger context? I don’t know. Some speculate that it’s social networking. If you live your life inside Facebook, then you’ll do your searches from within Facebook. Others think it’s a virtual world, like Second Life. Maybe it’s something no one is talking about.
So, as interesting as new search engines are to me, I don’t think they have the ability to change the world the way they once did. They might show us new ways of thinking about finding information, and move the industry forward, or they might be acquired by Google or one of the other mainstream search engines and have an impact that way. But they are unlikely to topple Google, or even make much of a dent.
No, when Sergey and Larry talk late at night about the threats to Google, I bet they spend a lot more time talking about larger environmental contexts than they spend on new search engines. Which is why Microsoft buying Yahoo! probably wasn’t all that scary to Google. Microsoft buying Facebook is a lot scarier.
So, if you’re a marketer that wants to know what’s coming next in search, my guess is that wherever it comes from, it won’t be search. If Google is not the company we’re all talking about in five years, it won’t have been replaced a new top dog in search. It will be toppled by a company that does something more interesting than mere search.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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Discussion

  1. Avatar Raul Reynoso

    Great post. I think you’re right that future search engines will be small players. I wonder what you think about search engines that are aimed at niche markets.
    Rushmore Drive is an example that has received a lot of attention recently. It attempts to return results relevant to African Americans by using a new algorithm that weighs certain inbound links more than others.
    What do you think about the potential for new niche search engines to allow marketers to reach the target markets they are after.

  2. Avatar Mike Moran

    That’s a good question, Raul. I once believes that vertical search might provide a way for some search engines to take share from Google, but I haven’t found any evidence for it. It always ends up with the same problem—searchers need to make a decision where to go before they search, and most of us just go to same place out of habit. As I said in this post, I really think Google killers must create a different context that people use, a larger context than search. Vertical search forces a selection decision before doing the same thing you always do. A bigger context is a new decision to do something besides search, which seems more sustainable—you’ll search while you are there, which also requires fewer decisions.

  3. Why it’s hard to care about new search engines

    Mike Moran wrote an interesting post in his blog, Biznology. He argues that the importance of search engines as a marketing platform is likely to decline as new technologies, like social networks, give people new ways to find information.
    This got …

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