The move was widely viewed as Google's attempt to assert its position as market leader. But Google's attention-grabbing maneuver is unlikely to be noticed by users, said some, because a greater index size doesn't necessarily correspond to better results. "It's a little bit of chest-beating," said JupiterResearch analyst Niki Scevak. "The key metric here is whether the search engine returns relevant results."
Daniel Read, vice president of product management at search engine company Ask Jeeves, said search engine indexes probably need to have at least 1 billion pages in order to return relevant results, but that result-quality doesn't necessarily improve beyond that number. "Size, at the end of the day, isn't the most important thing," said Read. The Ask Jeeves index size is about 2 billion pages.
In response, Google pointed to a Nov. 10 entry in its blog, accessible through the Google home page, that states: "Comprehensiveness is not the only important factor in evaluating a search engine, but it's invaluable for queries that only return a few results."
Size aside, the financial consequences of a new entrant into search remain to be seen. Scevak said MSN search is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the sponsored listings marketplace, namely because Yahoo!'s Overture will continue to supply sponsored listings on MSN search through 2005. Already, said Scevak, most marketers who purchase sponsored listings on Google also purchase them on Overture.
But MSN's entry into search could still have financial fallout due to pay-per-click revenue, said Scevak. If consumers start clicking on sponsored listings via MSN instead of Google, then MSN will capture the pay-per-click fees that would have previously gone to Google.
Still, said Scevak, it might be premature to start discussing economic consequences. "It's important not to get ahead of ourselves," he said, adding that MSN's engine is still in beta--which usually means kinks have yet to be worked out. "It's more of a 2005 thing--not a today thing."