What If Google and Bing Waged a Search War and Nobody Noticed?

For Most People, Search Is Just Search

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Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
Google is going to win the war for audience love and ad revenue. No, Bing is or maybe people will just start finding everything on Facebook. Or, it will be hard to tell who the winners and losers are because no one outside the ad world cares.

Google's enjoying Verizon's company, Microsoft and Yahoo have come together to sell search ads the world over except in Japan, where it's actually impossible to tell the difference. The brand of your search engine is starting to matter less and less.

Our mobile devices have advanced so far that by the time one conquers a device's learning curve, it's obsolete. It's pointless to learn anything or remain loyal to a product because everything changes so fast. People will have to be spoon-fed change in a capacity that suits them. Several recent moves in technology, search and advertising should have you more than a little bit worried.

Audience wars?
Really, it should be advertising wars. No one cares about the audience. It is, as it always has been, about generating ad revenue in the most efficient way possible. Well, I suppose some ad sellers care about the audience; when they for some reason stop coming to their site for example.

The proper care and feeding of your audience should be about finding ways to make their lives simpler. Technology doesn't really make people's lives easier; it uses complication couched on the simplicity platform.

Destroying search by 'fixing' it
The process of monetizing search listings has been fraught with hit or miss since before Google first "borrowed" the search ad format from Idealab. Features like ad extensions for seller reviews might look pretty to an advertiser, but it reveals a fatal flaw in the online review process.

Interrupting the purchase or desired action process is usually a bad thing. We want people on our websites buying stuff, not scrolling through miles of half-witted editorial. We want to choose the terms by which people make decisions with search ads.

When Google Checkout first appeared, ads with the little icon saw big click spikes. Some complained that adding the proprietary icon added an unfair advantage to those who didn't have it. Soon, they became wallpaper.

Playing video in a result page might seem like a good idea, but since it flies in the face of the desired activity in a search engine (hint: search engines make money when people click on the ads), the video auto-play went away. The more we add to a search result, the more we make it complicated.

Eventually, we'll reach the point of making yet another interaction too clumsy. The evolution of search monetization will test the tolerance boundaries of the searcher until the numbers really start to decline.

Instant search, but why?
Instant search is another one of those solutions created by engineers completely out of touch with humans. Like instant coffee, it sounds like a good idea until you have to consume it. My guess is boredom and fatigue from all that free food and the happiest work environment on the planet has finally taken its toll. In other words, idle hands solve problems that don't exist.

Entering search characters didn't need to be faster for people, the results pages needed to be more relevant and accurate. Most of the upside from Instant comes in (theory) monetizing search terms. Is it a coincidence that the big Google AdWords spenders come up first? Isn't your first search suggestion starting with "A," Amazon? Of course, I am just being paranoid.

Anyone familiar with running a search advertising initiative knows that people are terrible with entering exact or even accurate queries. People can't (or don't care to) spell, type, or navigate well. If they could, search marketing would be very different than it is today.

For most people, search is just search
My favorite scrap with my wife co-starred a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue. In the middle of a partial light to medium domestic storm, she poured herself the last two fingers of a liter bottle. A bottle, mind you, that I had carried back from China many years ago.

I instantly forgot what we were quibbling about. As she finished the last drop, it occurred to me: In a distracted environment, my wife's understanding of Johnny Blue was that of any other bottle of Scotch. For me, however, a bottle of the Blue lasts about five to seven years and only makes an appearance on or around my birthday.

To my wife, Scotch is Scotch and it all tastes like recycled tires. To the consuming public, search is search and the issues we face are unique to us. Do-it-all devices and features are engineered to deliver a unique customer experience by offering everything, allowing consumers pick what they like. It's a nice idea that really doesn't apply to search.

Needless Complexity
The moronic refinement principle states that consumers will begin to turn away from technology right about the time the learning curve time commitment exceeds the product's actual life.

My Motorola Droid is a good example of this. No sooner had I learned to use it when the updated version came out with all the things that annoy me apparently sorted out. Great, the new one will make my life simpler for eight more months until the next one comes out. Of course, that won't help me play my iTunes movies on my Xbox or watch it all from my slinging (brand name intentionally left out) box, but that is another story.

Even when we get things right, we have the burning desire to screw it up with a new version and that lunacy is now being served up in your search page.

Google is the new Microsoft
Google has already become Microsoft; there should be no debate left. Even though the last dozen or so books on the subject of Google could aptly be described as literary hagiography, negative sentiments are on the rise and the Google/ Verizon deal was far from the beginning.

When innovation comes primarily from acquisition, the culture of an organization is impossible to maintain. The same thing that put Microsoft and Yahoo behind has already begun to work against Google. Of the last five acquisitions in the last month only one was search related (Like.Com) and the other 4 were socially focused.

The end result of the world's digital power struggles has only reinforced an emerging theme for the consuming public.

The balance of power in the connected world is in a constant state of flux because the idea or ideal of loyalty to a service, product or brand has seen its day and the sun has set. We are not one community, we are thousands of micro communities and the winning brand will have to cater to that fact in a much simpler way.

Kevin M. Ryan is CEO of the strategic consulting and project management firm Motivity Marketing. He tweets at @KevinMRyan.
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