Word of the Yahoo! layoffs are spreading around today. If anyone doubted Google’s Reality before, they won’t be now. Between Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo! – it’s largest buyout attempt ever at $45 billion, and the bleeding Yahoo!’s been feeling for awhile, the Big Google Monster seems invincible. When you’ve got Microsoft acting all fidgety, you know you’re doing something right.
So what is Google doing right? Well, they have the best search engine around. I use it at least twenty to forty times a day. I’m locked in and I don’t really consider going elsewhere. On a rare occasion, if I’ve hit a dead end here or there, I’ll look to Microsoft’s Live search or Yahoo. Still, it could be argued that Yahoo and Live’s search engines are as good as Google’s. I’m not sure if that’s the case. In fact, I haven’t bothered to try to find out. Google works and I have no reason to leave.
The Default Setting In Our Minds
Google is winning and is so difficult to unseat because they’ve established themselves as the default setting for search in people’s minds. Does it really matter that Live’s search is as good? Better yet, does it even matter that Live’s search is better? It’s too late. Changing the default setting in our heads requires a lot more than that. It requires something seismic to happen. Either an incredible new feature needs to arrive or Google needs to screw up badly. I don’t see either of those scenarios materializing any time soon.
As far as brand monopoly goes, Google is getting there. Google is starting to equal the search. The act of "googling" is already accepted as a newborn verb. This sort of brand domination is nearly impossible to unseat, regardless of whether your product is better or not. How much does mindshare and first-to-market matter? Take a look at this chart:
The above shows Mapquest’s dominance of map searching that persists to this day, as reported by Hitwise. Note that Google Maps is slowly gaining ground, but they’ve still got a long ways to go.
Mind you, Google wasn’t the first to do search. Alta Vista was supposed to be the premiere search engine. Or does anyone remember Hotbot? It turns out that Google was that much better. Google’s arrival really was a seismic event and we’re seeing the outcome of that shift today.
Still, this bit of reality persists: even if you’re better than your entrenched competition, if their stuff works and people are comfortable with it, you’re not going to eat into that mindshare.
This is as much about comfort and familiarity as it is about quality of service and feature sets.
"Mmmm! Smell My Magazine!"
So what of all those young, fresh brains that haven’t set Google as their default search just yet? How do Google and Yahoo get to that switch? Well, it’s tough. You need to somehow wedge your way into that first experience. The default laptop or desktop install. The default search setting on your browser. Today, Google enjoys excellent brand awareness. Friends and family are probably going to point you to Google. So its pretty tough.
There’s another snag though. Because Google is a service that really has no physical representation (i.e. a shrink-wrapped box on a supermarket shelf), there really is no shelf-space to vie for. How does Yahoo get people to try Yahoo?
If you pick up any men’s or women’s magazine, you’ll find a fold-out ad with some cologne or perfume infused in the flap. You sniff it while your cheek bumps into some attractive, brooding supermodels, and almost instantaneously, you make a judgment. It’s an incredibly effective way to experience a new product you may have never even heard of two minutes prior.
Microsoft and Yahoo are having a real hard time "stepping in" to your magazine-flipping experience on the Web. When you’re in Google’s ecosystem, it’s no mistake that you’ll never see a semblance of Yahoo and Microsoft. Google has done an excellent job of walling off and keeping you within their walls.
The challenge for anyone looking to unseat an entrenched brand like Google is significant. In light of all this, the definition of the challenge at hand is tweaked. It isn’t: "how can we deliver a better product and win new customers?" It’s more like: "how can we cause an earthquake to happen such that people’s minds are reset and are compelled, or even forced to consider our product?"