Yes, there's a search war going on. But rather than it being a winner-take-all battle, the landscape is far more like a network-TV ratings fight. The major TV networks might get stronger or weaker relative to each other, but they don't disappear. Nor do new ones easily emerge to take away share.
The same is true with search. It's hard to be a major search engine. Creating the core technology to gather billions of pages and deliver relevant results to millions of users each day is a huge challenge. And should you really build a better and more scalable mousetrap, you still have the task of fighting against large brands that have established trusted relationships with searchers.
But what about Google? Isn't Google the upstart that barged in to become a major search network, similar to Fox crashing the TV-network parade? Yes, and Google is the rare exception. Perhaps it will happen again. But Google came along at the precise time when search was a neglected internet-portal feature, something seen as a loss leader rather than a money-making machine.
It's unlikely the major search networks of today will allow another Google to emerge. If a new player were to seriously gain share, you can expect it would be absorbed by one of the existing networks. Google's acquisition of YouTube is a case in point -- and a lesson that also covers the importance of vertical search.
If search is like network TV, then there's also the cable alternative. That's where specialized, or "vertical," search channels can thrive. It's where you'll find the next MTV, Comedy Central or FX of search, catering to an audience with particular interests.
Some of these search cable channels will stay independent. Some will be launched by the major networks. Some independents, such as YouTube, will be purchased. But all of them represent places to watch for marketing opportunities beyond the established search networks. A new major channel like Google is unlikely, but alternatives will emerge on a smaller scale.
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Danny Sullivan has been covering the search marketing industry for more than a decade and is editor in chief of SearcheEngineLand.com.