Digital Marketing Guide: Search

Google, Yahoo, Bing: What Does It All the Competition Mean for My Ad Plans?

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Is Google getting too big?
Yes. No. Maybe. It depends on your point of view.

In terms of search, Google has maintained its huge lead in the face of massive ad spending from Microsoft to push its own Bing search engine. It has an estimated 70% of the search market in U.S. In the past year, it has expanded into areas such as real-estate listings, music search, local "Places" pages and even rolled out its own iPhone rival, the Nexus One. In terms of search, there's no doubt that Google's huge.

But Google faces challenges, too. More and more reports are surfacing about the amount of traffic that Facebook and Twitter can drive, and Facebook's ads are getting buzz in some quarters. Marketers are realizing it's not a Google-only world. Google's realizing that, too -- pushing back with features such as real-time search and the recently launched Buzz social-sharing service.

Can Microsoft beat Google?
Probably not. Google has such a huge lead in search that its name is synonymous with search. Microsoft "beating" Google in search would be like Apple beating Microsoft in the operating-system space. Despite the growing popularity of Macs, the vast majority of computers are powered by Windows. And the vast majority of searches are powered by Google. I don't expect that to change, but I do expect Microsoft will grow its share and become the No. 2 search engine. Microsoft has about 11.3% share in search, second to Yahoo's 17% share, according to ComScore's January rankings.

Is Yahoo done in search?
Probably. The company is steadfast that the proposed deal with Microsoft will still leave it as a strong player in search, that the underlying search technology is like a computer chip, and that plenty of computer makers are successful by not actually making their own processors. That's a nice story if you're building computers. If you're playing in the search space, no major company has succeeded in the long-term once it gave up its search technology. Yahoo's fighting against long odds to break that streak. I think it will lose search share and be overtaken by Bing. That doesn't mean Yahoo won't be a successful company in other ways, but as a search leader, I think those days are done.

Will all this competition make my ads cheaper?
No. Google doesn't have some "rate card" that it will adjust simply because it's trying to win customers from Bing. Instead, advertisers at Google compete against each other to create a dynamic, always changing rate card. Bing won't impact that -- unless it grows search share so much that more advertisers spent over there, causing the competition within Google to drop. That's unlikely. But the competition is likely to cause Google to perhaps be more responsive and roll out more features that can support advertisers.

SEO is unpaid search and SEM is paid search, right?
Only if you want to make me really angry. Search-engine marketing is a phrase I helped popularize back in 2001 as an umbrella term that encompasses both search-engine optimization (SEO) and paid search (also called PPC for pay-per-click or CPC for cost-per-click). Over the years, some have equated paid search with SEM, perhaps because Yahoo decided to call its paid search service "Yahoo Search Marketing." I still fight for SEM as an umbrella term, because I think search marketers need to be considering both "halves" of the search marketing house, paid and unpaid.

Is this real-time stuff all hype?
A bit. Read some breathless accounts of real-time search and you'd get the impression it can cure cancer, end poverty and bring about world peace. The reality is that real-time data is an exciting new area, content that never existed before that now offers new opportunities to marketers. But it hasn't caused all the other forms of search to become irrelevant. Yes, you still need a website.

Will search engines eventually wipe out all the unpaid listings?
No, I think there will always be a strong editorial component to the search results you see. However, experiments such as Google's "enhanced" local listings or ads inserted within product-search results that are sorted will likely continue. That's opportunity for marketers who are willing to pay. That's perhaps bad news for marketers who depend on paid listings. That's a bunch of confusion for searchers -- and likely something that will cause the FTC to review its original guidelines about search ads that were issued in 2002

Danny Sullivan is editor of
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