May 26, 2008
The Battle for Search Supremacy – Google vs Microsoft
The recent news that Microsoft and Yahoo have decided not to go ahead with their planned merger has led to Microsoft announcing that they intend to take on Google by themselves. On paper it seems like an achievable task, America’s second biggest listed company taking on number 16. In fact, with almost double the market capital behind it, Microsoft should probably be considered favourites in a head-to-head tussle.
But why then is everyone so sceptical about Microsoft’s prospects? Why is the Microsoft juggernaut all of a sudden vulnerable to this relative rookie company with big dreams? The answer is simple; Google do search better and they have the market in the palm of their hand.
Microsoft’s MSN/Live search and Yahoo’s search are just not making inroads against Google’s tried and tested simple approach. Google has a no-fuss approach to search. Their homepage is simple, results are clearly displayed and most users have faith in the Google algorithm’s ability to deliver relevant search results. Live and Yahoo! have not worked this out or refuse to blatantly copy Google’s premise.
The name Microsoft once struck fear into the hearts of all other digital companies, because it seemed that no matter how well you did something, Microsoft could throw millions at it and take your market.
But Google has changed all that. Microsoft have been trying for years now to replicate Google’s success online, but according to BRW Magazine, have only managed around 5% of US search revenue market share, compared to Google’s whopping 77%. Google has humbled the once un-toppable giant.
The secret to Google’s success is that, out of all the big search engines, they have the most conspicuous ads. Live and Yahoo! both have ads cluttering their homepages whereas Google only display ads in search results and their AdWords quality score algorithm keeps their ads fairly relevant as well. For this reason, a search results page in Google does not “feel” like an advertising billboard, which can be the case in other search engines.
So that brings us to now, where Microsoft is once again claiming that they are ready to take the mantle as the net’s premier search engine. Microsoft are currently working on capturing the display ad market, with development teams working overtime on technology for video and banner ads that display more relevant ads based on a user’s browsing patterns.
Of course Google are not going to sit back and wait for Microsoft to gain ground on them, and their recent acquisitions of DoubleClick and Youtube suggest they are already going on the offensive.
So who’s going to win? Microsoft or Google? From what I’m seing the answer is Google. Google have the market cornered and are not going to give it up without a fight.
One of the reasons I believe that Google will win (this round) is that they have quite remarkably managed to dodge the ‘big bad company’ tag. It is very common for large corporations to become disliked in the court of public opinion because they are greedy or ‘out to get us.’ It seems that no matter how big Google get, they are still liked by the public. This can probably be traced back to the way Google manages its staff, who work in more of a resort than an office. In the search engine wars, Google are the good guys whilst Microsoft are the baddies.
Microsoft will undoubtedly keep trying, they always do. Search engine advertising is too big a market for Microsoft to give in, but if this new display ad platform is once again outperformed by Google, they may have to go crawling back to Yahoo. Microsoft have already hinted that they may revisit the idea by putting the merger decision to a shareholder vote, indicating that even inside their own ranks they have doubts over their own ability to beat Google.
My gut feeling says that Microsoft and Yahoo will be together sooner rather than later. If and when this happens it is critical that they do not try and copy Google, but rather come up with a new kind of search experience, that delivers the most relevant search results (including ads) and offers more for Internet users, but I won’t be holding my breath.
Round One – Google Knockout…