I saw this report from comScore a few days ago which was their April U.S. Search Engine Rankings and of course it showed Google at almost 50% and growing followed by Yahoo at 26.8% (a decrease) and then MSN at 10.3% (also a decrease) followed by Ask.com at 5.1% ( a slight decrease) and AOL holding flat at 5.0%. This got me thinking. Hmmm, when faced with a huge juggernaut like a Google or back in my old telecom days like an AT&T or my brokerage days like a Schwab what did those competitors do? Answer: They bought or combined with the companies above them.
Back in the beginning, I dealt with a company called GoTo.com for search. GoTo was really the only place to do pay per click ads and as I recall DLJ was one of their underwriters. Anyway, I met with their executives including Jaynie Studenmund and cut a deal for CSFBdirect to run pay per click advertising through their networks. A few months later the company was renamed Overture. Besides having some search traffic on Overture (they never really pushed it), they offered PPC advertising on sites like Yahoo, MSN, and as I recall AOL too. My search campaigns with Overture predated Google, but when Google really started pushing search marketing, I jumped on board. However, back in the day, Overture always outperformed Google from an account perspective as well as a CPA perspective. That lasted until about the middle 2004 when Google's results started to surpass Overture.
That's of course about a year and a half after Yahoo acquired them. Yahoo was their biggest customer so that acquisition made sense. MSN wasn't too happy but stayed with them for a while until they broke off their deal. AOL left a few years earlier, so all that was left was Overture search partners and Yahoo. Part of my Managing Director group at Harrisdirect was running search and what we noticed was a lack of ownership by the former Overture team and a lack of new innovations.
Now a year after that and what do you have? Search traffic that is heading down hill still while Google grows. The campaigns that I run now for a lot of different clients including myself (political and non-political so the folks the follow me should know that this is for varying search campaigns and NOT John McCain's search campaign) usually show the same results:
- Google kicks butt from a volume as well as a CPA perspective
- MSN has little volume, but outstanding CPA and ROI
- Yahoo is sandwiched in between, half the volume of Google and the highest CPAs and the worst ROIs of the three but for the most part in acceptable ranges.
That's why I think that for MSN and Yahoo to compete they ought to combine the search platforms again. I know it seems like that is going back to the future, but they worked together well in the past and how does that saying go "My enemies enemy is my friend." MSN can provide the editorial review and targeting know how and Yahoo can provide the community search via Yahoo Answers which seems to be a Google issue for now. Their traffic combinations and tools that they can bring each other might make this more of a competition.
In a day with TiVo, RSS feeds, YouTube, social networking, the demand for a user's attention is turning into quite a battle. Plus broadband and a browser's tabbing function makes it much easier to move around from site to site so trying to get a monopoly of a user's surfing is very difficult. If you give them a reason to use you over and over again they'll keep coming back like the model that Google has. MSN and Yahoo search can't stand on their own and compete with Google, but together they can make Overtures to first place again.