I was in Seattle for the SMX Advanced conference last month, which coincided with the Bing release announcement by Microsoft. The Microsoft booth got a good amount of attention from the attendees, most of whom were eager to see just what this Bing thing could do.
A large flat screen monitor was mounted on the booth backdrop, allowing demonstrations to be viewed by most of us congregated around the booth. As we watched a search deploy on the screen I turned to the woman standing next to me and said, “So, what do you think of this Bing, anyway?” She smiled and said it looked interesting, adding, “But, it’s Microsoft so it’s probably not going to make it. Now if it were Google…”
That last bit speaks volumes about the culture of search. How hard is it for a new product or service to break into the search space? In an industry that prides itself on innovation and “thinking outside the box,” why are we so reluctant to give Bing a chance to challenge Google’s dominance in the search world?
Try going to meetings and conferences or engaging in casual conversation with people who work in online advertising and listen to what they say about Google. Many times, I hear people complain that Google is such a force that those of us in the online advertising sector have little choice but to “do as Google says” if we want to “play.” And because of the enormous confidence consumers have in Google search, we can do little but go along. Because we “go along,” Google continues to be the monster in the space that it has been for a while now. As with any innovation, if people aren’t willing to give something new a legitimate chance at proving its worth, few things will ever break into the market. And what is more troubling is that we complain about the behemoth that is Google and then do little if anything to break its stranglehold on the search space.
I have used Google as the example of the “monster” in the space, but I could have easily used Microsoft. In its sector, we encounter the same issue. Listen to people complaining about Microsoft but continuing to use it, thus reinforcing the strength of the brand. How many articles have been published asking who will be the “Google buster” all the while concluding that there are none looming on the horizon to date. As one columnist put it, (and I paraphrase) people LIKE Google so they will continue to use it. That is loyalty to a brand that is hard to erode. Henry Blodgett (Silicon Alley Insider) wrote, “Consumers are happy with Google. They don’t see a need to switch.” And that clearly captures the perspective of Google users.
For those of us in the ad sector, it matters little that we may not like dealing with the likes of Google. Our advertisers, the folks we work for, like Google and want Google traffic. They want to see their ad prominently placed on Google Sponsored Links because everyone they know uses Google for search. And everyone is who they want to see their ads. Does it matter that we may be able to bring them traffic and hence business/sales/revenue via other media providers? Perhaps, but when it comes to how people find products and services online, they’re not “Yahoo-ing” or “Binging” nearly as much as they’re “Googling.” And for those of us who work with advertisers, that point is difficult to refute. It may be anecdotal, but it’s compelling.
So is there any purpose in trying to change the culture of online search? Yes, most certainly. For those of us working in the industry, we must continue to innovate, to explore, and to create the next “big thing.” And that requires movement which requires change. If we concede and surrender to Google’s dominance, we stop moving forward. And that is what we cannot ever do. We have to keep searching (no pun intended) for the next great service that will move us and the culture in which we work, forward. Even if that movement is at a glacial pace!
So let’s hear it for Bing, for keeping us moving.