Search Ad Buyers Don't Want A Monopoly, But Who Will Be The Sacrificial Lamb?

A search monopoly is inevitable. Now, what are you going to do about it?

The Laws of the Universe dictate that it is impossible to write a search column this week about anything other than the fall of Microhoo and the rise of Yahoogle.

Joe Nocera at The New York Times tore Jerry Yang a new one, while Crayton Harrison and Amy Thomson at Bloomberg called Yahoo 'damaged goods.' Kara Swisher made the ominous prediction that Microsoft will soon be letting loose the Dogs of War. Carl Icahn even got the LOLcats treatment.

The lone voice in favor of Yahoo's seemingly petulant behavior was Henry Blodget, whose backhanded praise pointed out that Yahoo's search business is pretty much dead anyway, so they might as well milk whatever they can from Google until the doctors cease resuscitation attempts.



Let's be clear here: this is full-on big corporate drama. The stakes are high. Fortunes have been and will continue to be made and lost. The futures of these companies will be dramatically and irrevocably influenced by the events of recent and coming months.

And the people who will ultimately decide the fate of search couldn't care less.

I have no idea how many people understand the intricate details of The Offer, The Snub, and The Rebound--but I'm willing to bet that they are an elite few relative to the masses that make Google the giant that it is.

Let's look at some numbers. Nielsen Online reported 127 million unique visitors to Google in May, and over 5 billion searches conducted on the site in April. Their search share is sitting comfortably north of 60%.

The decision of those 127 million people to use Google has absolutely nothing to do with stock prices or poison pills. It does, however, have a lot to do with habit, as my colleague Gord Hotchkiss pointed out on more than one occasion.

As long as those 127 million people continue to indulge that habit, and as long as the momentum of their mass behavior continues to attract others to join the herd, advertisers will continue to shunt budgets away from Yahoo and Microsoft and toward the place where the people are. The only difference is that they may shunt budgets away from Yahoo faster now, since they can get there via Google anyway.

In the voluntary realm of online search, the market is trending toward a monopoly; all mergers can do is hasten or slow the process, and the only remedy left to the Department of Justice is Manchurian Candidate-style mind reprogramming so that a certain portion of the population will always use alternative search engines.

Bryan Wiener, CEO of 360i, said in MediaWeek that search ad buyers don't want a monopoly; he pointed out that it wouldn't be good for business if Google were the only game in town. The question is, which one of those search ad buyers is going to be the sacrificial lamb? Who among you is going to use Panama or Live Search just to keep the marketplace vibrant, when all the eyeballs and all the queries and all the click-throughs are coming through Google?

Will it be you?

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