To Google's Competitors: Please, This Year, Do Something Amazing!

A month ago yesterday, I was on stage in Park City, Utah at the Search Insider Summit with Danny Sullivan, Jeff Pruitt (SEMPO President/iCrossing) and John Tawadros (iProspect) talking about Google's domination of the search space. Both Danny and I took Microsoft and Yahoo to task for not mounting a more significant challenge to Google's dominance. It could be my imagination, but it seemed that for the rest of the Summit, I felt a bit of a chill in the air between myself and the Yahoo and Microsoft reps that ventured to Park City. I suspect the feeling was that as the emcee and moderator, I should have been less opinionated and more neutral. Fair enough, I guess, considering the root of the word moderator. But, with my first column of the new year, I felt I should clear the air a little bit.


I Like You, I Really Like You...

Really, Microsoft and Yahoo, I don't hate you. You frustrate the hell out of me, but I certainly don't hate you. I root for you constantly. I've always been an "underdog" kind of guy. Anything I mentioned on stage in Park City I've said directly to your respective development teams in Sunnyvale (Yahoo) and Redmond (Microsoft). I'll tell anyone that listens. Ad nauseam, so I've been told. In a recent post, Danny Sullivan called it tough love. Danny and I have talked about this and we both really, really want you to succeed. But as much as I've tried to give helpful advice, the right people don't seem to be listening.



Here's the thing. I love search. I love its potential. I love the way it makes me more functional and sound smarter and better informed. Yet I know we've barely scratched the surface. There is so much more to come, but we need to get there as fast as possible. The only way to do that is to have a more competitive market. Google needs to have someone constantly breathing down its neck. The current market domination isn't good for anyone, especially not the user. I suspect the engineers (not the bean counters) at Google even feel the same way. We need an arms race in search. Right now, it's like the U.S. taking on Canada and Iceland (as a Canadian, I can say that). So when I say pull up your socks and take search seriously, I mean it with love.

Bottom Up is the Way to Go

In Danny's post, he nicely outlines the symptoms of malaise at Microsoft. And lord knows everyone and their dog has been piling on the bash-Yahoo bandwagon in the last few months, so I won't go there. The problem, as I see it, is that there's a gap a mile wide between the top and bottom in both organizations. The result is a dysfunctional culture. The front lines at both organizations desperately want to do something significant in search, but they're hamstrung by a lack of clear strategic focus from the top. Microsoft is locked in a product development mindset that squeezes anything amazing out before it can even make it to beta. Yahoo is trying to walk an impossible tight rope, tweaking the user experience while at the same time squeezing as much money as possible out of the search page.

To do something amazing in search, both organizations have to start at the foundation, the user, and rebuild from the ground up. What I would like to see is an approach taken by Intel and Apple in the past, leapfrog development. Let one team work on tweaking the existing product, and lock another team away somewhere to reinvent the future. Throw the rule book away and start over. Take your brightest rebels, remove them from the distractions of mind-numbing bureaucracy and panicked financial analyst reports, and let them do what they long to do: beat Google. Let them do something amazing.

Let People Be Amazing, Then Keep Your Hands Off

But please, if someone at Microsoft or Yahoo is listening, don't make the same mistake GM did with Saturn. The launch of Saturn in 1983 redefined how a North American car company could be. Many of the legacy issues that plagued GM (confrontational union relationships, overly complacent dealer networks, quality control issues) were left behind with Saturn, creating an exceptional degree of loyalty and pride of ownership. In fact, Saturn became so successful that GM just couldn't keep its hands off it, gradually bringing Saturn more and more into the GM corporate fold and, in the process, squeezing much of the life out of the brand.

Amazing things wither and die in an atmosphere of corporate bureaucracy, visionless management and political infighting. Search is too important and too vibrant to leave it to this fate. Let 2009 be the year to do something remarkable.

6 comments about "To Google's Competitors: Please, This Year, Do Something Amazing!".
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  1. Bruce May from Bizperity, January 8, 2009 at 10:55 a.m.

    You think Google is a great solution? Mircorsoft and Yahoo should raise the bar and aim higher. Pick any topic and search on Goolge. You get 10 million worthless links and Wikipedia. You might as well just go straight to Wikipedia and forget searching altogether. Serach has a long way to go. Nobody is really thinking out of the box. My local phone book is still a better resource for most of my needs. I mostly use Goolge only because I can't remember how to spell the name of the sites I already know about. The industry as a whole needs to try a lot harder to fulfill the promise of search.

  2. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, January 8, 2009 at 11:15 a.m.

    Maybe it's not a responsibility of the SEs maybe it's the responsibility of SEOs to reach out and optimize for MSN and Y! so the number of unique visitors, (isn't that what market share is measured on instead of searches?) from those search engines goes up?

  3. Jim Clouse from, January 8, 2009 at 11:19 a.m.

    There already is a better search product out there. It is Log on and you will see a 180 degree difference.

    Not just search but "find". Changing categories with just a mouseover of a category and clicking a subcategory. Sorting by price range and chain name.

    ClikitySplit is both the advertisers dream come true (check out the red dots) and end users dream--no push display advertising.

    Yeah the POI data is sparse but that will be changing real soon. The end result: "...a breath of fresh air..."

  4. Stephen Brown from Internet Marketing Consultant, January 8, 2009 at 11:45 a.m.

    While there are probably many issues with Microsoft and Yahoo, the biggest problem that I and many people I talk to see is with their editorial policies. I have a client that would spend over $100k/month on Google yet couldn't spend more than a few thousand in Yahoo and Microsoft because editorial rejection of keyword.

    Instead of letting users decide what's "relevant", their editors decide that something isn't relevant unless the keyword searched is included on the landing page. For example, if you have a health-related website that offers general, health-related tips that cover a variety of subjects but doesn't specifically mention a search term like "vitamins", your keyword would be rejected. Even if information on vitamins was included deeper in the site or as part of free test results that users were encouraged to take. Why is this term relevant on Google's site but not Yahoo?

    Naturally, your site and keywords have to be relevant with Google and if you're a health-related site but are bidding on Britney Spears, you're likely to get rejected as well, or have to bid ridiculously high amounts for the terms, but for the most part, they're pretty liberal on what you can bid on.

    Until Yahoo and Microsoft actually starts liberalizing it's editorial policies, they're going to limit they're revenue - and the potential for their search customers to find more "relevant" advertisers.

  5. Dana Todd from SRVR LLC, January 8, 2009 at 11:59 a.m.

    Ya know what I'd like to bring back? The keyword-triggered banner. Yeah, heresy, whatever...but those things really worked back in the day and gave a brand more reasons to participate with a higher level of creativity. Yahoo used to feature one solitary banner, not a pile of them like Alta Vista and Infoseek, and the performance was extraordinary.

  6. Gordon Hotchkiss from Out of My Gord Consulting, January 8, 2009 at 5:35 p.m.


    Your solution has to do with advertising. Advertising is a by product. You can't be an advertising vehicle if you don't have users. And it's not just a "choise of the masses". I'm not sure anyone has spent more time looking at user behavior on engines than I have. I'm not drinking the Google Kool Aid, but I will tell you that Google consistently kicks Microsoft and YAhoo's ass with top of page relevancy for the user. I've got research up the ying yang that proves the point. I find it interesting that most of the comments to this post went right to advertising suggestions. That's the whole problem with the search industry right now..and that's why I'm frustrated as hell. Get users first, and then find the balance with advertising. That was Danny's point in the post. We're not worshipping at the altar of Google, but if you're an advertising vehicle, you can't argue against marketshare. Sure Google is not the be all and end all of search, and I think that was my point. We do have a long way to go. But without some decent competition, it will take a lot longer to get there.

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