Google and Bing still have an SMB gap

As I follow the SMB market in the online space, I see something that I am not convinced the tech world is paying enough attention to. It’s a demarcation line where millions of SMBs will line up on one side or the other. How they choose will pick a winner for the biggest of the big in the Internet world: Google and Bing.

Let’s be honest. Regardless of whatever inroads other search competitors like Blekko, Wolfram Alpha, or one of the many niche engines that exist make, the fact remains that for the foreseeable future it’s Google’s game to lose and Bing has the only real chance to take it from them.

Bing trying to challenge Google

Image by michperu via Flickr

I have had discussions with folks from both companies over the past few months and they are both sincere in their belief that they have the better mousetrap. What I wonder is if they ever truly, and I mean truly, get out from behind their monitors, remove their engineering goggles and talk to a specific group of people that might be the difference makers in the next 15-20 years of the Internet space.

These people are SMBs that were born before 1975. They are in their mid thirties all the way through retirement age. They are the group that had the commercial Internet introduced to them at the age of 20 at the earliest (I am using 1995 as the introduction of the commercial Internet. You may disagree so just adjust accordingly). Others like myself are rapidly approaching 50. I was in my mid 30’s when the Internet turned our lives inside out in good and bad ways.

So here is the concern I have. This group is extremely influential from an SMB perspective. Sure, they are not the coolest kids but they have something better than a high hipness factor. They have experience. They have success. They have money. They make decisions based more on business acumen than young adult arrogance and hubris. In other words, they are the true economic engine and both Google and Bing are acting as if they don’t exist or that they will “get” the Internet just because they should.

Google believes that 25% of the SMB market will be able to implement self-service tools that they offer for the SMB like Adwords, Boost, Tags, and more. That group is probably those under the age of 35 who have grown up with the Internet as part of their lives before they got to the real world. With 75% of a big market hanging out there to be taken, you would think that Google or Bing would be chomping at the bit to get to it. From what I can see, that’s not the case and here’s why.

  • Both companies don’t get that this older set requires human interaction. I get that staffing with real people is expensive but the opportunity cost for letting this market spend their marketing dollars elsewhere is pretty big too.
  • These owners of more mature businesses have money but the big guys act as if they don’t. This is a big assumption but business owners who have started and survived should have the business savvy to be budgeting for marketing and should have the customer base to support it. Newer bootstrapped operations in their early maturity often use marketing dollars if they have them rather then having planned for them.
  • These businesses and their owners are going to be around for 15-20 years but short-term earnings pressure kills good business . I am sure that one day every single business owner will be tech savvy enough to get how everything works and not require as much interaction. Until that time, businesses need help and they need attention. Google and Bing can’t wait around until the time when the current business community has aged out. They need to make money this quarter, so why not address the needs of today’s market instead of acting like they should just be tomorrow’s market now?
  • Bing has the most to gain but has chosen to fight the wrong fight. If Bing could gather itself, identify where Google is just awful (marketing and customer service), and attack these areas with the same vigor they attack the engineering side of search, I think they would have a chance to make major inroads in their fight against Google. Right now, they are willing to lose in the neighborhood of $500 million in a quarter, which includes brand advertising that, while nice, doesn’t change minds and habits. Why not spend the money on getting down to street level with human beings to meet these business owners, find out what they really need, provide it for them and then let them convince their customers that Bing is a good option?
  • Google getting fat and happy in search while ignoring business fundamentals. I describe Google as an algorithm with about 20,000 pulses attached to it. I have referred to them as the Goog in the past because they just assimilate things and people into their “way.” Well, their way has some serious defects. Poor search results, SMBs asking for help where Google is offering none, concentrating on too many things (such as energy) to be really good at anything including search.

I feel like this idea is a bit convoluted but it’s no less real. There are a TON of SMBs waiting for someone to help them do the Internet correctly. That is not the same as developing new “add-ons” and making announcements through a company blog that only the industry types read. Google and Bing need town hall type presentations to help SMBs understand just what is available to them and how it could impact their business which in turn impacts their lives which in turn impacts the country.

Imagine this scenario. Microsoft takes the time, energy and resources to put a human machine behind Bing. They start a revolution of sorts by becoming accessible and in the process provide jobs rather than pouring more money into a tech black hole of ‘innovation’. Businesses start to get their act together and the economy as a whole gets the injection it needs from the bottom up.

Great story if someone with the capabilities will try to do it. Truth is, I doubt it. That’s too bad.

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