Has Google Opened the Door to New Search Rivals?

As Google scrambles to establish a strong social foothold, it has unveiled a new version of its ubiquitous search engine called Search Plus Your World.

While it may make sense for Google’s social strategy, it’s a controversial move because it arguably biases search results by putting Google+ front and centre. In particular, Danny Sullivan, one of the leading search engine analysts, has been extremely vocal about how Google’s new initiative had made its results less relevant.

Meanwhile, John Battelle has a thought-provoking blog post on how Google+ represents a conundrum for marketers and anyone interested in being found via Google search.

Given Google’s new bias for Google+, he suggests brands and people who care about search results will have no choice but to be on Google+ because their Web sites and blogs will rank below their Google+ profiles.

In many respects, Google has diluted the accuracy and relevance of its search results by placing the interests of Google+ above the interests of people seeking high-quality search results. That said, Google is a business as opposed to a public utility so it will clearly do things that serve its own interests without alienating its users in a significant way.

A Strategic Error?

Based on first impressions and the strong pushback from the Web community, Google has made a key strategic error in thrusting Google+ into the spotlight so aggressively.

As much as many people are die-hard Google search users, Search Plus Your World may given people news reasons to consider alternatives such as Bing, which has made solid market share inroads recently.

Blekko, Anyone?

At the same time, Google may have opened the doors to new rivals. Despite Google’s dominance, there have been a steady string of search startups who believe they have a better mousetrap. This includes well-financed startups such as Cuil, Powerset and Blekko.

The big problem has been while these startups may offer better results, Google users are so entrenched in their behaviour they can’t go through the aggravation of switching, let alone see whether a startup is a better experience.

But the launch of Search Plus Your World may provide search startups with a much-needed window of opportunity because it prompt even entrenched Google search users, including myself, to seriously consider and check out other options.

The reality of the digital world is there’s no such thing as guaranteed market dominance given other services are just a click away. This applies to Google, which has enjoyed a long and easy reign as search’s top dog.

If a new search engine captures the imagination of people, including influencers and mavens, it wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest Google could lose some market share in a heartbeat.

For the past few years, search startups have been looking for a crack in Google’s armour. With the introduction of Search Plus Your World, Google may have given startups what they’ve been seeking.

More: Another interesting read is CNet’s Peter Yared’s post, which includes this strong assertion:

“As I’ve written in the past, Google well knows that its search results suck, and over the past few years, it has started to short-circuit those results by putting more and more direct “answers” at the top search pages. That, of course, makes the search results themselves less and less important.”

  • I agree with the general sentiment of this post. The purist in me thinks Google has lost sight of it’s own mission statement… but I guess shareholders come first!

    Does it open a door for new entrants? Many industry leaders have faltered in the past because they lose sight of what made them great in the first place. Competition is always good and if there was ever a chance for the competition to sneak in then this is it. But, as you point out, there is always this issue of “lock-in” and, despite very low switching costs for the consumer, a force of habits can easily thwart that very simple switch from being made