Not-So-Natural-Born Google Killers

By Aaron Goldman, VP Marketing & Strategic Partnerships
Appeared in MediaPost's Search Insider

It’s become quite fashionable to speculate about companies that could unseat Google. As I write this, there are nearly 100,000 matches on Google for the query “Google Killer.” Not one to miss a fashion trend, I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon here.

The Fine Print

What follows is not another list of cool new search engines that are innovating — sometimes just for the sake of innovating — in the search space. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the race for search supremacy is over and Google has won.

Sure there’s a place for Yahoo, Microsoft, and Ask — Barry Diller himself has said that being #4 in the lucrative search space is still a great place to be — as well as various niche vertical engines. But it’s unlikely any of them will conquer Google’s 60% share. They may chip away, but it will be a very, very long time before anyone supplants Google in terms of absolute query volume. As fellow Search Insider Gord Hotchkiss discussed in his engaging five-part series, the Google habit is already well-formed.

In fact, I doubt Google even sees the aforementioned companies as its core competition. As Google has said repeatedly — perhaps most loudly when its DoubleClick acquisition was being scrutinized — it’s not after the $10 billion search market or even the $20 billion online media market. Nosireebob, Google has its sights set on the $500 billion global advertising market.

So it’s within that context that I evaluate potential Google killers — people, companies, and platforms that could thwart Google’s aspirations to become the dominant player in the global ad space.

And the Nominees Are…

1. Project Canoe. While you might not think this initiative from the six biggest cable companies in the States is a direct shot at Google, the New York Times clearly does. It says this joint venture is “an effort to slow Google’s siphoning of advertising dollars away from television…. [by allowing] national advertisers to buy customized ads and interactive ads across the companies’ systems.”

Advantage: Google. The key to creating TV advertising so relevant that viewers are compelled to (inter)act is having a broad enough base of advertisers to match the right brand with the right consumer at the right time. Google has cornered the market on identifying “moments of relevance” and has an active base of 1 million-plus advertisers from which to draw.

2. Spot Runner. The model that Google is trying to replicate in television was pioneered by Spot Runner. Spot Runner was created to help local businesses advertise on TV and provides a turnkey platform for ad production and placement. It recently got into the search marketing game with its purchase of Weblistic and just snagged Joanne Bradford, Microsoft’s top ad exec.

Advantage: Google. Spot Runner may have had a head start in the TV space, but Google has the bench strength, both in terms of capital and active advertisers. The Weblistic deal is hot off the press so it’s too early to tell — but my first inclination is that it won’t bring the scale needed to effectively compete in search.

3. Microhoo. A Microsoft/Yahoo combination would deliver massive share in overall unique visitors and page views. And, as I’ve said before, Microsoft’s tech supremacy could mesh well with Yahoo’s keen understanding of the online media landscape. Yahoo has emerged as a leader in behavioral targeting (through Blue Lithium) and direct response media (through Right Media). Microsoft (through AdCenter) has finally proven it can deploy reliable technology on relatively short development schedules. Together, Microhoo could deliver incredible scale against highly targeted audience segments.

Advantage: Google. While I’m bullish on Microhoo, it would take years for the companies to fully integrate and, even then, the new entity would only be a player in the online space. Outside of Xbox, neither Microsoft nor Yahoo has any meaningful offline media products. Meanwhile, while they figure out how to bridge Redmond and Sunnyvale, the Mountain View gang will have widened the gap even further.

4. Omniture. Surprised to see these guys on this list? You’re not alone. For that matter, perhaps the only people who would expect to find Omniture here would be the folks in Orem — well, them and Jim Cramer, that is. Omniture has amassed quite the portfolio of assets, including Visual Sciences and Offermatica. Omniture’s core business is Web analytics, and it has a robust solution for large enterprises. Omniture also competes in the paid search campaign management space, with Google’s DART Search going head-to-head against Omniture Search Center.

Advantage: Google. When it comes to Web analytics and general data management, Omniture has the edge. Google Analytics is a nice tool — especially considering it’s free — but nowhere near the sophistication of Omniture Site Catalyst. If it built out a complete ad-serving solution, Omniture might be able to give GoogleClick a run for its money, as advertisers and publishers would prefer an “independent third-party solution” if all else were equal. But that would only check a few boxes against the Google advertising machine. It’s unlikely Omniture would get into the media brokerage business — and, if it did, would have no chance against Google’s long tail of publishers and advertisers.

The Cliffhanger

Stay tuned for my next column, when I cover more potential Google killers, including Facebook, Telecoms, Madison Avenue, End Users, The Street, and Google itself. Heck, I may even turn this into a three-parter and throw eBay, Amazon, NBCU and News Corp. into the mix. To that end, if there are other potential Google killers that you think I should consider, drop me a note in the Search Insider blog and I’ll try to incorporate them into my analysis. Believe me Natalie, there’s no shortage of usual and unusual suspects.


Bryson said...

Don't you mean "Not-So-Natural-Born Google Killers?"? Is this the end of the interrogative title for the Media Post column?

Aaron Goldman said...

Yeah, I decided to buck tradition on this one. Didn't want to force-fit a title just to keep it in question format. It was a fun ride though - think I had a 50+ column streak going.

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