The Future Wars of Search

One of the keynote speeches and another session at the Search Engine Strategies conference was the future of search. Everybody agrees that the search engine technology and market place are dynamic. How this will work out for the main search engines is a topic with implications not only for analysts but for practicing search engine marketers.

Most analysts focus on market share when suggesting that Google is losing its dominance. Since Yahoo’s switch to its own crawler of course the market shares dramatically changed. What might be more significant is the different approaches to growth the three leading search engines might follow.

Three approaches to search, three approaches to growth

Yahoo has been a portal for years now and its incorporation of proprietary search technology will only enhance the user experience and will boost the notion of personalized search. MSN is working on its own search technology and whenever it delivers it, will surely play a significant role in the search market place. Google has always resisted the urge to become a portal and has maintained the mantra of simplicity in search experience. Admittedly, this simplicity has won its many admirers. The future, though, might not be very bright for Google, even though the days of its IPO are approaching.

A new report by Forrester Research comments further on the notion that Google’s days of dominance might be counted: “there are limits to Google’s ambition for ubiquitous search — and ways for portals and technology companies to gain an advantage. Over the next few years, search will be fought on three battlegrounds — structured search, portal integration, and advertiser sign-ups. Google will cede the first two to Microsoft and Yahoo!.”

Google can’t be everything to everyone

Forrester’s prediction is that the three approaches to growth in search will result in three relative winners:

  • Google will maintain its leadership position as a general search utility and an effective ad network
  • Yahoo will win the portal battle, by extending its enhanced search throughout its network, creating a satisfying customer experience.
  • MSN will be the winner in structured, desktop search, powered by its newest version of Windows due out in late 2005

What impact will the the search engine wars have on online marketers

What this leaves small business marketers is with the need to diversify their search engine marketing channels. One cannot hope that the Google search engine traffic, as massive as it might be, will always continue unstoppable. Yahoo is already a major force and if not by the end of 2004, in 2005 MSN will become the new big player. The partnership with AOL will then be the one to whom the balance of the search engine market place will hinge. The balance of one’s search engine marketing success, though, will balance on intelligent mix of web marketing campaigns over multiple channels — both organic and per-for-click.