Friday, December 5, 2008

Can Microsoft Catch Up to Google?

During the "Google Universe" panel this morning at the Search Insider Summit, the topic of Microsoft's ability to catch up arose on more than one occasion.

Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land was the most outspoken on the topic (I know, shocker!) He pointed to a couple institutional challenges that Microsoft faces:

1. MSFT got into search as a way to make money off online advertising whereas Google got into search because it was passionate about it and wanted to organize the world's information. Danny said that if MSFT was serious about search it would recast the MSN homepage with nothing but a search box (ala Google).

2. MSFT seems unwilling to move away from its core products like Windows. He relayed an anecdote about how Microsoft engineers look at search as homework and just try to crank it out so they can get back to Windows and XBOX. Danny also mentioned how the MSFT mobile search experience is clunky because it’s so tied to Windows.

My rebuttal:

I’ve met many of the tech folks behind Live Search and they are as passionate about the search space and user experience as anyone. And they’ve released a number of innovative features in Live Search recently -- see my comments on this post. Alas, it may be a case of a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it and, therefore, not making a sound.

That said, MSFT does seem to have some momentum behind it in terms of advertiser adoption. Per AdGooroo’s Mid-Quarter Search Engine Update - Q408, Live Search first-page advertiser count increased 29.6% and its share of advertisers now stands at 15.3% -- nipping at the heels of Yahoo, which has dropped to 20.4%.

Bottom line, I agree with Danny that MSFT will never catch up to Google in search. You can’t change your company’s core DNA and the Google habit is too well-formed from a consumer perspective. That said, as Steve Ballmer has always proclaimed, second place in search ain’t a bad place to be!

Update: Danny's comments to this post are right on. No doubt, his overall tone was one of respect for the Live Search folks and their drive to "try harder" (ala Avis). In my zest to capture his more provacative sound bytes, I neglected to give the proper context. Danny is also on point with his recent tweets (see below and remember to read bottom up!) around Ballmer's comments on why Microhoo would be a winning proposition...

dannysullivan search engine for USERS not building just because microsoft decided it wants to sell ads. quote here from twhirl

dannysullivan and yahoo can help deliver those, but not if you lose them in the brand mess and failure to fully understand you're building a friggin from twhirl

dannysullivan "relevant ads on our page." wow. more advertises mean more relevant ads? want more advertisers, get more visitors. that's the fundamental from twhirl

dannysullivan ballmer on "fundamental" reason why yahoo would be good for microsoft: "Together we would have more advertisers….which means we’d have more"... from twhirl


Danny Sullivan said...

Just to be clear, I agree with you entirely. The Live Search folks are passionate about search. They want to win, and they do care about their users. I think I said this during the panel as well, but you know how panels go -- folks talk fast, hard to get it all down. And agreed on the "tree falling no one hears." Like I also said on the panel, Microsoft has had an awesome voice search product for mobile that no one has noticed. But Google Mobile with voice search? And the crowd goes nuts.

It wasn't really an anecdote I was relaying about Microsoft but rather an attitude that the entire company gives, primarily through their top level executives, that search is this "homework" they have to do. Again -- the Live Search people, it's a passion for them. But Microsoft overall? Search is this thing they have to do, not that they necessarily seem to want to do (and if they did, you know, they'd have done it long, long ago).

Aaron Goldman said...

Right on Danny. Thanks for weighing in to clarify. Updated my post accordingly.

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