Google Waves to Microsoft Bing While AOL Hopes People Still Care

Image representing Cuil as depicted in CrunchBase
There are many challengers to the search throne.  Few make it big.  Image via CrunchBase

We often tell clients that search engines and their plans constantly change.   It’s our job to monitor what’s going on, we tell them.   If there’s something big going on, we’ll make sure you know.
So what is something big?   Google rolling interest-based advertising was pretty big.   Microsoft trying to buy Yahoo! was also pretty big.    In search and search advertising, though, there are so many initiatives that knowing which ones will stick and be successful is a crapshoot.

Human search engines like Mahalo or other niche sites?  Not so big.   Wolfram|Alpha?   Well, do you remember Cuil?

Exactly.

Think widgets and gadgets and doodads are the next hot thing?  Yeah, so did some folks who spent their time building crap others could immediately find online instead of, you know, making money selling stuff.

You’ve undoubtedly heard headlines about all the search engines, though, so here is a quick check on what really matters in search marketing today:

  • Google:   They’re launching a “universal communications” service called Wave.  It will be cool.  A tiny percentage of geeks will play with it.  There are already services like GOOG-411 (the directory assistance killer), Google Voice, all sorts of Google Connect features and more.  What you really need to know is this:  Metrics company Hitwise says that Google handled 73% of all search queries over the last four weeks.  Oh, and Google is testing new typography and fonts that are a lot cleaner. (You see, we do pay attention!)
  • Yahoo!:   The Avis of search engines saw its market share of search continue sliding, down to 15% or so.    New CEO Carol Bartz, at the very cool All Things D conference, said that Yahoo! would consider a Microsoft deal reports The Wall Street Journal via PC World.  Someone better do something pretty fast because Microsoft offered $33 a share just over one year ago and Yahoo! is trading for less than half that.  Then Microsoft just tried 6 months ago to buy the search business only for $20 billion.    Yahoo! continues laying people off (1,500 here, 700 there) and posted a $1.5 billion loss in Q1.
  • Microsoft:   Google crushed its search efforts to the point where Microsoft’s Live actually provided incentives to people who used the search engine.   Google, Zoho and OpenOffice.org are combining to cut into the cash cow that is Microsoft Office while Linux attacks Windows itself and Firefox has deftly stolen more than 20 points of market share from Internet Explorer.  Combining both the company’s Live search site and its traditional search site, Microsoft accounts for about 5% of share volume.   Grandpappy always told me never to ignore the guys with $10 billion liquidity so don’t coun’t out the Redmond Gang.  Interesting stat:  net income grew from 2007 to 2008.  Microsoft is launching a new search site now called Bing.  The page is up with some lovely graphics and no functionality.  That kicks in next week sometime, but honestly, who cares?  The other two companies have 90% of the volume today.
  • Ask:  Yes, they’re still out there.  No, they’re not making headway.  Yes, the search results are okay, sometimes good.  Yes, they’re still stuck at under 5% of all search volume.  No, it’s not going to change, but it ain’t a bad business.
  • AOL:  The company that started off as the closed online site for Commodore 64s ended up buying all of Time Warner within a generation.  Wow.   And now, a decade after that, Time Warner is spinning the company back into its own entity.  Reports say that TWX expects the company to end up valued at $2.6 billion although the debt picture remains unclear.  Consider the revolving door at AOL will keep spinning as the company tries to manage what was once a private walled garden on the wild, wild web.   The most important part for search?   TWX will buy out Google’s 5% stake although it appears that Google will still serve search results there for now.
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