Is Google No. 1 Forever?

Google is without a doubt the world's number one search engine. According
to the research firm Neilsen/NetRatings, Google's share of the global search
market in February 2006 was 48.5%, more than double the 22.5% share its
nearest rival Yahoo saw. Having been the engine of choice for nearly five
years, Google is synonymous with search. Because Google is the first thing
most folks think of when they think about search, it is the most important
search marketing venue, at least for the vast majority of SEOs.

That might be changing in the coming years. There's a sense in the SEO
sector that the horizons have expanded significantly and the search
marketing map has gotten far largër. What the new landscape will look like
exactly, and how large Google's footprint will be, is still unknown. The
emerging online environment is still being explored, so to speak. As it is
explored, it is evolving very quickly. In many ways, it feels like the early
days of the commercial web where everyone knew that everything was about
change, but no one really knew exactly how.

While Google's influence is incredïble and its dominance appears
unassailable, a number of newer products and changes in public perceptions
have prompted subtle shifts in the habits of Internet users. Search
marketers and online advertisers have started taking notice, putting more
energy into helping clients understand and use tools such as blogs, images,
press releases and video content as marketing devices.

The evolution of the Internet, in regards to search depends a lot on four
unique groups; users, online marketers, search engine developers, and
creative web developers. How each group reacts to these new user/marketing
channels in the coming months and years will determine if Google's dominance
is threatened. As it stands today, Google remains synonymous with search,
however, users are starting to venture away from the Google brand, even if
it is the most recognizable one in their minds.

A recent survey conducted by UK-based online marketing firm, Harvest Digital
(reg. req.), shows that Google is almost universally recognized as the UK's
leading search engine. (When thinking about North American search engine
usage, similar results are assumed to be a somewhat safe assumption.)

When asked, "What search engine do you use?" 94% of respondents said Google.
40% said they used Yahoo, 39% said Ask Jeeves and 37% said MSN.

The answer clearly shows that Google is the first thing consumers think of
when asked about search but it also shows that most search engine users are
looking at more sources when looking for information. It also confirms that
Ask continues to enjoy high popularity in the UK, even after dropping ex-pat
butler Jeeves. Of the 205-person test group, only 24% said they only used
one search engine with 56% using two or three search engines.

A large group of search engine users express less than stellar expectations
from their experience with search engines. There appears to be a growing
dissatisfaction among UK search engine users with only 22% of the survey
group stating they felt "... confident that search engines would always give
them the information that they needed." More often than not, users blamed
themselves when searches produced less than useful results. 36% assumed they
were using the wrong keywords. 32% figured the information they were looking
for was too specialized. These statements should be noted by SEOs when
thinking of creative keyword targets along with alternative search venues
such as vertical and local search.

Interestingly, nearly a quarter of respondents said that advertisers paying
for higher position are responsible. 24% agreed with the statement,
"Advertisers are paying to come top of the results", is the reason "... some
searches are less successful". While the survey draws the conclusion that
this is a paid-search issue, it is unclear if respondents are noting PPC ads
or well-optimized sites dominating organic results.

When choosing results to click on, 60% said it is because that result
appeared on the first page with 17% tending towards the top results. 32%
stated the description as an important factor when choosing which search
results might best match their needs. Again, 78% of them will express some
sense of dissatisfaction with the results.

Ultimately, the survey tells search marketers and their advertisers to
spread their focuses to see the much wider horizon. Almost one third of
respondents stated their search queries are too specialized to produce
successful results. This suggests there is a lot of room for adoption of
more targeted search tools such as the vertical search sector and local
search engines.

Google is working to cover the vertical bases with its all-in-one solution,
Google Base. Several search marketing forums have noted the appearance of
Google Base results in searches conducted around the travel, home salës, and
automotive industries. It is assumed by many SEOs that Google is trying to
see if it can take a share of the market from popular advertising boards
like Craigslist and e-commerce facilitators such as eBay.

Yahoo and Google continue to compete against each other and smaller firms
such as A9, Ask, and even AOL, in the race to perfect a local search model.
As Internet access is integrated in smaller portable devices, local search
is seen as one of the greatest growth areas for search marketing.

Other search firms are moving to explore the expansive web as well. Last
month, Lycos announced it was introducing a number of self-publishing and
distribution options for content creators. It recently entered the VOIP
market with Lycos Phöne and today announced the release of a desktop
Blog editing tool, Lycos-Qumana.

Google has another problem on its plate in regards to user loyalty. Its
footprint has grown large enough that at times, it sort of steps on people's
expectations in the course of its operations, as is the case with Google's
relationship with the Chinese Government. While the other major search
engines are active players in the Chinese market, and actively make
values-based compromises their Western users might find unacceptable,
tends to attract the majority of user outrage. That's likely because
have come to expect Google to hold itself to a higher standard, one that
goes beyond compromising fair search results. A minor migration from
happens every time the tech-press cracks a shot across Google's bow.

As Internet usage increases, and the online environment evolves through
growth, search engine users are being offered more options while becoming
more educated about the medium. Social networks (which enjoy enormous
traffïc) such as MySpace have search features that users turn to when logged
in to the network.

The goal of online marketers is to drive traffïc to client websites or
documents. For search marketers, the expanding horizons can bring a bounty
of business. Today, the reality is that Google is the most difficult engine
to achieve a high ranking on, but it is also the most effective search
marketing venue. Google is the most popular search engine and continues to
drive the most traffïc.

We expect that fact to remain the same but, at the same time, we are
strongly advising our clients to think about other search marketing
channels. The habits of Internet users are changing as the incredïble growth
of MySpace demonstrates. There is a lot of new search marketing turf out
there and it is time to work towards establishing a presence there.

Jim Hedger


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