Aug 4, 2007

My Take "On How To Beat Google"?

Recently, I came across a post with featuring 12 tips on how to beat Google. Below, I take a closer look at each of these tips and offer my own insights.

A conventional attack against Google's search product will fail. They are unassailable in their core domain. If you merely duplicate Google's search engine, you will have nothing. A copy of their product with your brand has no pull against the original product with their brand.
-> Not sure how you win the hearts and minds of Searchers if you don't mount a strong attack on Google's search product. If indeed Google is not invincible - then why not try to create a more relevant Search Engine - especially when it's widely known that over 40% of existing Searches go unaswered.

Duplicating Google's engine is uninteresting anyway. The design and approach were begun a decade ago. You can do better now.
-> Google didn't invent th ecurrent UI for most Search Engines, they inherited it. That said, they certainly improved overall performance and relevance of Search Engines. There's absolutely nothing wrong with duplicating the design and approach which Google uses - the key challenge is to deliver a very light page and fast ultra-relevant results. Utilizing the same design approach as Google can actually be an advantage, because users will feel comfortable with the format.

You need both a great product and a strong new brand. Both are hard problems. The lack of either dooms the effort. "Strong new brand" specifically excludes "". The branding and positioning are half the battle.
-> I think it's save to say that the key players in the "Search Wars" are now clearly defined - at least for the next 5 years. It's highly unlikely that any totally new brand is going to challenge the big 3 -with 2 smaller players fighting for scraps. Very few Global Organizations have the resources to mount a challenge to Google in the Search Space. Yahoo has tried - but Microsoft's Live Search is clearly the key pretender to the throne. I think the value of a "Strong New Brand" is probably overated anyway. Both Yahoo Search and Live Search derive a large proportion of their Query Volume through their General Interest Portals. Google is the only truly Global Search Engine - it's brand is strong becuase it's undiluted by Portal Channels and Communications Products. If Yahoo and MSN can continue to grow their audiences and get their users to use their Search Engines more often, they'll certainly take share from Google. (assuming of course that their Search Engines achieve releative parity with Google, in relevance and performance).

You need to position your product to sub-segment the market and carve out a new niche. Or better, define an entirely new category. See Ries on how to launch a new brand into a market owned by a competitor. If it can be done in Ketchup or Shampoo, it can be done in search.
-> This makes no sense at all. Let's take a step back and consider the key objective of this post - "How to beat Google". How can you hope to defeat the Google Juggernut, by "carving out a new niche"? What niche? What Category? The Value Proposition of any Search Engine is clear - to help users quickly get information. The revenue model of most Search Engines is also quite clear - sponsored links, with a key engagemetn parameter. This market place is growing at a rapid clip already. People understand it and the ROI must be pretty good. Otherwise Google wouldn't be delivering Billion Dollar Revenue figures each quarter. So tell me how you beat Google by looking for a new "niche" market. Search Verticals are great, but thus far, over 80% of Queries are for Algorithmic Search Results, plus, there's no siginificant revneu to be had in Vertical Search, at least not today. So, you can't beat Google by looking for a sub-segment of a market which they already control.

Forget interface innovation. The editorial value of search is in the index, not the interface. That's why google's minimalist interface is so appealing. Interface features only get in the way.
-> This point directly contradicts point #2 above. I actually disagree with this point. Innovation is always important and always useful. Google had no idea that their Search Engine would be such a big hit when they began innovating in an effort to improve on existing Search Engines at the time. They intuitively felt that they could do a better job with the bid-price model with Bill Gross pioneered with, and they did. It's possible to create a strong value proposition with an alternartive, UI - perhaps one with more vertical search integration. The key challenge is that it's a lot more difficult to monetize specialized search results - and at the end of the day, that's really what drives the business.

Forget about asking users to do anything besides typing two words into a box.
-> Not so sure I understand this point - but I'll take a stab at providing my insights. As an avid searcher, I often type two or three lines in a Search Box, especially if I'm looking for very specific "time sensitive" information. I value the availabillity of the advanced search feature, which enables me to provide important context for my searches. If this comment implies that users don't want to do anything other than type a word or two in a box, I'd disagree. Search Influentials - and "Influentials" in general, help to shape Industry Trends. Your average influential does a whole lot of tail queries.

Users do not click on clusters, or tags, or categories, or directory tabs, or pulldowns. Ever. Extra work from users is going the wrong way. You want to figure out how the user can do even less work.
-> Similar point to the one made above. My response remains the same. No doubt, most users won't do any extra work UNLESS they see true VALUE in the results. That's the key. It's also worth noting none of the 3 leading search engines creates more work for users. The all have advanced search capabillities - but don't shove it down the users throats.

Your results need to be in a single column. UI successes like Google and blogging have shown that we don't want multiple columns. Distractions from the middle with junk on the sides corrupt your thinking and drive users away. -> Again, this is highly subjective. I don't care about multiple columns as long as the results I get are relevant. Most people enjoy getting a variety of results for their searches - I've never heard anyone complain about having to review multiple columns, but they'll complain about query results on a single result column, with poor relevance

Your product must look different than Google in some way that is deliberately incompatible with their UI, for two reasons. One, if you look the same as them, consumers can't tell how you're different, and then you won't pull any users over. Two, if your results are shown in the same form as Google's, they will simply copy whatever innovations you introduce. You need to do something they can't copy, not because they're not technically capable of doing so, but because of the constraints of their legacy interface on -> The most important form of differentiation from Google - is to deliver a better quality product. If your marketing and promotional activities are strong enough, then feature and performance parity with Google may be sufficient. It is NOT necessary to deliver a UI which is incompatible with Googles -especially if you're not relying on your Brand Name to drive Traffic to your Search Engine. This goes back to my point about Yahoo and Live Search. I can see how this point may be true for or any of the smaller search engines, but they're not going to threaten Google anytime soon. If you try to create a UX which is markedly different from the Industry Leader, you force users to choose. Now, consider the fact that Google already processes well over half the number of search queries entered Worldwide - and then think about the key goal here "to beat Google".

Your core team will be 2-3 people, not 20. You cannot build something new and different with a big team. Big teams are only capable of duplicating existing technology. The sum of 20 sets of vision is mud.
-> Again subjective. Search is a very complex and interesting problem. There are many different ways to explore Search and deliver a compelling value proposition. I agree that when teams become too big - they are often unwieldy and sluggish. However, there's no reason why a team of twenty can't be work on 4 or 5 seperate projects -as part of one key objective.

Search is more about systems software than algorithms or relevance tricks. That's why Google has all those OS programmers. You need a strong platform to win, you can't just cobble it together as you go like other big web apps.
-> Who knows if this assertion is totally accurate. At the end of the day, the users will decide, and you can be sure that they will lean towards the Search Engine which consistently thrills, excites them -while delivering useful, relevant information.

Do not fear Google's vast CapEx. You should wish maintenance of that monster on your worst enemies. Resource constraints are healthy for innovation. You're building something new and different anyway.
True - but if you ever hope to Challenge Google, then prepare for the same sought of CapEx that they have. Afterall, serving over 100m queries daily requires plenty of resources

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