Not so long ago, I had written a blog post on why Bing should focus on in-site search as a way to fight Google’s stranglehold on the search space. While no one at Bing or Google heard me out on this, Techcrunch now reports on how this space is heating up. Two start-ups have already raised serious Series A capital and are focussed on just this one opportunity – Making the In-Site-search experience better.
While the start-ups and its investors can rest assured of acquisition offers coming their way, it is still surprising to see that Bing and other Google challengers haven’t exploited this opportunity so far.
The Techcrunch article assumes that Google wouldnt want a great in-Site-search product as it would mean fewer hits on Google.com. While people at Google might buy this logic (I wouldn’t – better to cannibalize own product rather than let another player come in), but how can someone at Bing justify leaving this space? Beats me. Any ideas?
Recently Microsoft shared some UK market specific data, wherein they highlighted how Bing has managed to gain traction and bring Google’s share of the pie below the 90% mark.
One can only begin to imagine the kind of uphill task Bing product and sales teams must be looking at. But, its also a time for them to be focused, to search (no pun intended!) for possible weak spots in Google’s fortress.
One such area that comes to my mind is Custom Search Engine (CSE) – this product was designed to allow website owners/managers to provide a quick search across their site by just copy/pasting a few lines of code. Also, Google shows its own ads along side the search results (like it does on its own inventory), allowing the webmaster to make some extra revenue – from search ads.
Many sites adopted it, few of them discontinued it in favor of their own search technologies and many don’t know how to make it align with the site’s overall, look and feel.
CSE is good opportunity because being where the search gets initiated is probably half the battle for a search engine. Unfortunately, (for Bing) pure-user initiated across-web search mostly begins at Google.com. If the user is not on Google and still thinking of search, thats the best use-case for a Google Challenger.
So here’s why Bing teams should focus on an awesome CSE product:
Google is not really the de-facto leader here. Its a whole set of solutions that exist.
CSE can be a great gateway for the complete Bing experience. External links on CSE could tunnel the user towards Bing.com
It allows them to build the Bing brand as the preferred search destination by tapping into the long tail of web-users. Taking Google head on in web-search will only lead to bleeding. Here each site that installs this product, is helping convert potential future Bing users.
Its a seemingly simple product, for each of its installation(s). Deliver the right set of pages in the search view from the site or the web.
Many webmasters might be willing to switch, just for a better design or a better set of options or maybe even a better revenue maths.
A close friend of mine, just started his own venture after spending over a decade in the banking industry. He still goes to his venture’s web site by going to Google first and then typing his venture’s name in the search bar.
No he is not doing it for some convoluted SEO impact. This is the way he has been going to portals – Go to Google and then type the “name” (not the URL) and “find” the site.
And I am told that many a people follow the same routine. The incremental step (of going to Google etc) is not a hurdle in their minds even when they know the URL.
Well, I wanted to share this to impress upon you as to how Search Engines are now serious gatekeepers of web traffic.
Google has been a clear leader for a long time now and I have been following (trying to understand their approach & rationale) their path of attacking the long tail of search.
Now for the un-initiated, Google made its billions by the auction model embedded into the search engine. This is where a co/trader/individual bids for certain keywords (the ones being searched) and pays for every click. The revenues have been growing very rapidly because of multiple reasons:
There was traffic – with Google becoming more of a verb than a noun, there was traffic for most use-cases. With growing internet adoption, each category saw a rapid jump. Maybe some like travel, jobs, real estate, finance, porn, music, entertainment, matrimonials saw a faster growth, but even someone bidding for “2nd hand laptops in Trissur” would get a few leads every now and then. Hence, traffic meant volumes.
Clear Context is established – a user searching for Personal Loans in Delhi, is in all probability in the market for one. So most banks/DSAs etc would want to bid for this and get a chance to talk to this guy. Hence, context meant interested relevant prospects and leads.
Long tail of supply and demand – unlike Facebook where the inventory to target a particular user is kind of fixed, in a search engine scenario, the inventory is created by the user. Please note, I do not refer to the number of opportunities to talk to a user. That might still be high at Facebook if a user spends a lot of time browsing through multiple profiles and pages. But in case of a search engine, when I search for loan – I am a good target for financial institutes, and when I search for cars, it opens up a whole new category of people to talk to me. All the while maintaining the high relevancy. This also meant, that a small co/user with low budgets operating in a niche category would not always be muscled out by big media spenders. A huge difference over Facebook. This long tail of advertisers is what created the really vibrant marketplace that adwords currently is.
While all of this was fine, Google and maybe now Bing too, have been trying to grow at a rate faster than the market and they have been adopting a lot of smarts.
Google gave free adwords vouchers to SMEs. This was a neat way to get new advertisers, especially the ones who have never ever used /tested the platform. Since there was traffic, there was an opportunity for these niche players to get visible in their categories, and the product itself was easy to go live on with minimal support. One just needed to have a landing page to divert the click-throughs.
Free/Easy hosting web-sites. I am sure Google would have found that many of its prospects are not continuing with adwords as they do not even have a web presence. They dont want to spend on it. Or maybe some had a presence only on Just Dial, Indiamart etc. By providing users with a template driven, easy to create web sites, Google just expanded the universe for its adwords sales team. Now anyone who had a web site, should be targeted and be on-board with the ad-words program.
All this has clearly worked well for Google. I know a lot of friends from manufacturing and other traditional industrues, who now talk about Google adwords very vividly. But I feel one aspect is still missing.
As I look at it, Google has convinced people on the following:
It can get you leads/references – vibrant market place with long tail effects
Its easy to create a web-site/landing page if you dont have one – free hosting etc
You can easily track campaigns, change them with little overheads – simple DIY approach to adwords
It also shares best practices etc on Landing pages/banners to maximise responses – you can improve further
But what is missing is re-inforcing the fact that Google leads convert.
Different businesses have different closure/follow-up cycles and many a times the closures don’t happen because the business/user fails to follow-up efficiently. I am not talking about a comprehensive CRM but a simple way to allow small businesses to track their online leads.
My gut feel is that many businesses try out adwords, but discontinue basis non-qualified feedback on lead quality. If they had access to simple tools to see where the lead went cold, maybe they would see that Google leads are better quality and easier to convert.
My experience has shown me that the real-promise of digital channels is delivered only if the team knows how to follow-up efficiently.
Would we see the future search engines providing an integrated Bidding+Landing Page hosting+ Leads Tracking+ Analytics ?
The latest in the Search Engine wars has got every one interested – Google has claimed that it has conclusive proof post a sting operation that Bing has been sniffing out Google results and showing them as top-searches, for keywords that have very few possible matches.
While the engineers at Google cry foul at this, many are debating whether this is just a smart move on Bing’s behalf or outright unethical. What do you think?