Google’s Dominance and Microsoft’s Perseverance
Year after year, and month after month we keep an eye on the search engine market share picture. Over and over again in the US, we see Google completely dominating (more so with each year it seems), Yahoo a ways back, and Microsoft even further back.
These three search engines have long been known as "the big three," although in reality, there’s really only a "big one." Looking at the latest stats from Hitwise, you can see that Google’s gaining market share and the others are losing it.
But that doesn’t mean the other two have given up. In fact, it almost feels like both Microsoft and Yahoo feel like they have a good chance of catching Google in the forseeable future – if only they can overcome a few hurdles. To the outsider it seems a bit more far-fetched, but they’re trying.
What Microsoft is Trying to Do to Catch Google
Nick Wingfield blogs at the Wall Street Journal about Microsoft’s hurdles in the search market as the company struggles with branding issues. Microsoft’s search brand is as Wingfield points out, a "confusing jumble." Right now, they’ve got Live Search at live.com. Then they’ve got various other products with live in the title. Then there’s MSN Search – msnsearch.com redirects to live.com. Now they’re throwing names like Kumo and Kiev into the mix. That ought to help. Meanwhile, Google is still Google and Yahoo is still Yahoo. Perhaps they’re overlooking their strongest brand – oh, I don’t know…"Microsoft?"
What if they branded Microsoft.com as the place to go for searching? There’s a search box right at the top of the site, but it doesn’t search the web if you enter your query and hit enter. Yes there is a button for web, which goes to Live Search results, but otherwise you are searching for stuff on Micosoft’s own property. Maybe some adjustments here would be a start in the right direction. I still hesitate to believe it would put much of a dent in Google’s share, but it would make better use of a brand name that EVERYONE knows.
Accoding to Wingfield’s post, Micosoft has been giving users "blind taste tests" comparing Google results and Microsoft results. According to them, people can’t tell the difference. If this is the case, branding rather than relevancy is the real issue. And it’s something Microsoft is looking to improve, but will they succeed in this or just come up with the next "live.com" which isn’t really that old of a brand itself?
Does it even matter at this point anyway? Based on this "taste test" business, it sounds like people find Microsoft results as good as Google’s. Not better. Why would Google users change just to get more of the same from a place they’re not used to going? Add the fact that many Google users have their time invested in many other Google products on the web (like Gmail, Calendar, Docs, AdWords, their iGoogle home pages, etc.). Google search is always close by to these people too.
The Other Two
Meanwhile, Yahoo is doing its own thing, going more open, and more social, etc. Matt McGee has an article worth reading about Yahoo’s strategy of "going back to the future" under new CEO Carol Bartz.
As for Google, it keeps doing its thing, and people keep using it. It continually makes changes to its algorithm, and despite complaints here and there (mostly from marketers), they’re keeping the butts in the seats, so to speak. Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz has an interesting article and graph looking at how Google’s algorithm has changed over time.
Google’s constantly tweaking results. Perhaps Microsoft’s (and Yahoo’s for that matter) greatest hope is simply for Google to make a wrong move and send users running for the search engine hills. If I were either of these search engines, I would not be holding my breath on that. After all, sometimes not even a wrong move can steer people away from familiarity and comfort. I wonder how many people infuriated by the recent Facebook redesign stopped using Facebook in favor of a different network. What’s Facebook’s number up to now, 200 Million?