Search Start-ups Won't Do Much to Stop Google Habit

Danny Sullivan on Search Marketing

By Published on .

Google currently reigns, but surely challengers are coming for its crown -- right? Right.

The competitors may be aiming at Google, but don't expect them to take it down. Those weapons of mass search destruction, such as "natural language search," "semantic search" and "social search," will just bounce off Google's Teflon engine.

Danny Sullivan
Photo: Jason Meyer
Danny Sullivan has been covering the search-marketing industry for more than a decade and is editor in chief of
Google may have been the David that toppled Goliath, but when Google did it, the big players saw search as a loss-leader. They couldn't monetize it directly, so they took their eye off the quality ball, which created a chance for the second mover -- Google -- to win.

Today search is a $10 billion business and Google's not going to sit idly by and let a small start-up muscle in on that money. Neither will Microsoft, for that matter. It continues to spend millions of its own in hopes of gaining on Google. Despite all it does, Microsoft has yet to make a noticeable dent.

So Microsoft can't do it -- but some start-up will? Anyone remember last year's launch of Cuil? Founded in part by former Googlers and armed with well-recognized search talent, if any start-up seemed likely to be the "new" Google, it was Cuil. And it crashed and burned.

Look, Google didn't have revolutionary technology when it came out. Analyzing links as "votes" to help rank web pages was something well-documented in search research when Google graced the scene. It just went at it full-bore.

The others could have too, if they cared. But they didn't. And the technologies you hear about today that will topple Google? They're not that revolutionary, either. Most have been discussed and even tried for years now. They're things Google could do if it wanted. (In fact, they're often things Google does but doesn't get fully recognized for.)

That's not to say there's no future for search start-ups. There's plenty of business in niche areas. But any start-up that thinks it will be the next Google doesn't fully recognize the challenge in getting people to kick their Google habit.

Sure, nothing lasts forever. As IBM ceded to Microsoft, so too will Google eventually cede to some other company. But it won't happen overnight. In fact, the question isn't can someone beat Google. Rather, it is: Can a start-up beat Microsoft?

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