John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

Search Wars

Vivek Wadhwa sparked a bit of a firestorm on the first of January 2011 with his article “Why we Desperately need a (new and better) Google.”  Vivek’s first point was that Google’s search result-sets are overrun with content farms of junk data.  “Google has become a jungle: a tropical paradise for spammers and marketers.” He also pointed out that alternative search engine Blekko does things differently. In reading Vivek’s blog, I realised that the Search Wars… may produce no victory – just casualties.

I blame Marcus Frind – founder of Plenty-of-Fish and I also blame INC Magazine.   The cover of Inc Magazine on January1, 2009 was about how Markus Frind keeps money rolling in.   Marcus keeps the money rolling in by producing content that his customers want. (He also blogs about it, and has since 2006 - with his wordpress theme essentially unchanged as far as I can tell.) Marcus Frind figured out what content the most people wanted, and monetized it, initially with Google’s Adwords/Adsense toolset.  Other people realized that if Marcus can make millions off of Sex, then other topics could be less lucrative, but still valuable. When people realized it, then companies realized it. http://www.associatedcontent.com/ is Yahoo’s “official library.”Yahoo, most famous lately for selling Yahoo HotJobs to Monster, and selling Yahoo Personals to Match.com – BOUGHT Associated Content in 2010 for $100 million dollars.    What does Associated do for Yahoo?   A quote from AdAge: “Associated manages a network of freelancers, but has also built underlying technology that predicts what kinds of content consumers want, as well as surfacing that content through natural search on engines such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing so the library makes money over time” 

Translation:  Associated makes money by building content that stuffs Google and other search engines.  They are only ONE company that does this.  Ok. I admit it. Marcus Friend and INC magazine aren’t really to blame. There is nobody to blame. People search. Searches produce data. Data is valuable and has a price. Search engine responses have a price. Building content to respond to those searches has value – whether it is for an SEO consultant, a “content farm” a media company, or any other company.

Having a price for the value of the response of Google searches, and a documented way, a well-understood way, a reproducable way to monitize the value of that response has become a problem for Google’s core business model; and it presents an Opportunity for Microsoft’s Bing.  

Wired – and everyone else online – noticed the escalations in the business-war between Google and Bing.  Wired’s article is titled:  Google Catches Bing Copying; Microsoft says ;So What?’  but they really missed the point. The point is not copying, or customer data, or even money. The point of this war is risk.  By fighting the war, both sides incur risk.

Farsight 2011: Beyond the search box.  “The future of Search” was recently held.

Just before it was held, Danny Sullivan broke some very interesting – somewhat inflamatory information.  Google trapped Microsoft/Bing copying Google Results.  Microsoft admitted to using opt-in data. Google obviously has been in the browser tool bar business for quite some time, and they also use opt-in data. Microsoft and Google both make billions from advertising, from operating systems, from browsers, from devices, and ultimately from advertisers, based on hexa-giga-peta-bytes of “opt-in” customer data.

There is endless value in the data that comes from browsers. Microsoft knows it. Google knows it. Everybody knows it. Microsoft is using the data to improve the tool that its customers are using. Google uses that value to sell AdWords. Everybody makes money counted in the Billions.

This argument between Google and Microsoft is Risky for either or both.

Here are two possible outcomes that would benefit Microsoft.
1) If people conclude from the resulting press that Google and Bing are not that different… 
and if businesses conclude that neither has a competitive advantage, that is a huge win for Microsoft’s Bing.

2)If people are interested in having tools that learn from their input and misspelllllings, they might use Bing more often.

Considering that Bing (as of 1/14/11) has 12% market share vs 66% for Google, any win for Microsoft’s Bing could be extremely significant.

HOWEVER, If people believe that Microsoft is stealing, that might benefit Google. If people believe that Google is emphasizing this issue to reduce the problem of junk-filled content farms which you address above as being able to differentiate “content produced by regular people and large-scale junk produced by the spammers” that is a problem for Google.

It is most risky, however, for both. I think this spat has the potential to further help people understand the value of the data they provide, the button-bars they install, the software, hardware and search engines they use, the sites they visit, the information that THEY willingly provide. 

That makes this war very risky to both Microsoft AND Google. 

Search Wars may not have a winner, only casualties.

What do you think?

February 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Search Engine Optimization | 2 comments