previous article, we explained that the pivot of the internet is shifting from search to social interactions. But this doesn't necessarily mean that search is losing its value. After all, don't we still live with previous paradigms like single sign-on and e-commerce? Search is still a crucial paradigm and so all the Internet bigcos continue fighting for position - and some of them ultimately aim to usurp the search leader, Google. In this article, we take a closer look at the competitive advantages of Google Search and try to find out whether Google is really beatable.In a
Google's Competitive Advantages
1. Free SEO Labor
Google's work force is not limited to their PhDs and 15,000 talented employees in Mountain View, New York and Dublin. SEOs from all around the world can be considered a free labor force for Google. In order to get their sites promoted on the world's number one search engine, SEOs optimize their sites according to Google's rules, register their sitemaps and ping Google's services whenever a new page is created. This gives Google a huge advantage over the other search engines, because other engines don't have the same level of feedback. Google caters to this crowd very well too, because it offers SEO friendly tools and advise.
2. Extra data - Google Co-op, Image Labeler, etc
With its customized search service, Google Co-op, users don't only create vertical a search engine - they also give Google very valuable domain-specific information.
3. Google knows everything about your site
Google made a very smart acquisition back in 2004. They bought Urchin and converted it to a free traffic analysis add-on for your site, Google Analytics. Today many sites use it to get a better understanding of their traffic. But a side effect of this tool is that it potentially gives Google access to important data about your site. Indeed if all sites had Urchin installed, Google would no longer need to compute pageranks, as it would have the most accurate access to site popularity possible! Obviously not all sites use Google Analytics, but still it is not an insignificant amount that do.
4. Google knows a lot about you - Personalization
Gmail, Google Toolbar, Google Docs and others. They all give clues about your personality, your interests, likes and dislikes. Consequently, you end up with more personalized search results. For example: if you are the type of person who searches for programming info in Google Search, discuss KDE's latest bugs on GTalk and Gmail, visit Freshmeat and Sourceforge all day and long with your Google Toolbar-powered Firefox -- well then Google will not consider your Python, Tomcat, Apache queries as zoological, but programming related :-)
5. Google offers UNIVERSAL search
Google does not only crawl the Web, blogosphere, press releases and books. It also crawls the real world with Google Earth. And Google Map's Street View lets you drive around big cities like New York and San Francisco, from your browser. Now with Universal Search, you can reach all of these services with a simple Google search.
6. Google has psychological dominance
The fact that Google is such a widely discussed topic makes you think that it is indispensable. Psychologically, you feel that you lack it when you try other search engines. Especially if your query is indefinitely motivated - e.g your purpose is more about researching than finding - then you always want to try your search on Google as well, even if you were already satisfied with other results elsewhere.
7. Google is everywhere
OK, let's say you decided to switch search engines. You still have obstacles, such as:
- If you use one of the Google network services, like Gmail, you always have Google top of mind;
- If you go to CNN.com, you have Google in the toolbar (on the US version at least); so why bother with entering a new URL for search?
- If you use Firefox, Safari or Opera, then Google is your default search provider, home page and feed subscriber.
I could go on, but the point is - there's no escape from Google. This is not merely the success of algorithms, but also the success of Omid Kordestani and the whole business development team.
8. Google has looooooots of ca$h
As of today, Google's market valuation is more than $150 Billion. They have lots of cash reserves (although not as much as Microsoft) and their profit margins are very high. In other words, Google is financially very healthy and they have the power to snap up any innovation developed externally. Just as they did with FeedBurner, Kaltix and Urchin.
In summary, competition in the search arena is not limited to algorithms only. You have a lot of obstacles before you can take on Google.
The real question is: does this all mean that Google is unbeatable in terms of market share? Even though Microsoft's Don Dodge said that even a 1% share in search market is very valuable, the fact is that Google dominates search. And that dominance brings monopoly and privacy issues to the fore.
I don't think Google is unbeatable (although you may think I'm completely biased, as I work for Hakia!). Google can be beat. On the algorithm side we are seeing intensive semantic methods emerge, which may in time challenge statistical methods like pagerank. But even outside the algorithm, bigcos continue to fight Google - especially Microsoft, which has the necessary cash and single sign-on power to potentially win the search space.
Moreover, vertical search engines may come to the rescue in solving most of the domain specific problems. In the same way, innovations in user interface and other areas continue to flourish.
Beating conventional wisdom is not so unusual. Commodore, Lotus, AOL are examples of previously dominant tech companies that eventually fell by the wayside. So even though Google looks very strong and rock solid to many of us, it can be beat. But it will take more than technology and marketing alone, because as the above points show - Google is strong in a lot of different ways.
Disclosure: Emre Sokullu works for Hakia, an alternative search engine to Google