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The Return of GoTo / Overture (and AOL)?
Overture wasn't able to build itself into a credible search destination in part because their brand was positioned incorrectly as being primarily about paid ads that only would backfill with other results in when the ad auction was empty, so as a destination it was seen as a payolla engine. Likewise AOL peaked because it was seen as a walled garden & couldn't keep up with DSL and the open web.
Search engines have recently pushed aggressively to revive the Web 0.1 game of walled gardens. Ever since I have been in search, Ask has been a (the?) leader in arbitrage. To this day IAC is Google's #1 advertiser & while AOL's search marketshare keeps dropping like a rock, Ask has managed to hold their marketshare relatively constant while over-monetizing the search results.
Even though Ask exited algorithmic search, IAC's stock price is up over 160% since they split off their other companies.
What makes that growth even more impressive is when it is compared against Google or Yahoo!.
Yahoo! bowed out of search, outsourcing to Bing. Over the past year Yahoo! has dialed up on over-promotion of their verticals in the search results quite aggressively.
In the above search result, Yahoo! ...
- added an "official site" label & favicon to the PPC ad
- inserted Yahoo! finance
- inserted Yahoo! Search sitesearch
- inserted Yahoo! Deals coupons (with a huge graphic)
- inserted Yahoo! Downloads (with a big button)
While Yahoo! has been able to increase "engagement" they have done so in part at the expense of losing users.
Surely some of that loss is due to Google's Chrome promotions, but that doesn't put Yahoo! in any stronger of a competitive position going forward, especially as Google clones their portal model.
Increasingly, when we search & when we surf the web it is getting harder to leave the networks we are on. Facebook offers advertisers discounts for advertising other Facebook pages. YouTube signs premium content partners like Motor Trend (and backfill garbage) & then advertises the manufacturer YouTube channels next to that content. The user never leaves the portal throughout the entire process & brands are forced to buy their own pre-existing brand equity, or Google will sell it off to competitors.
Google recently added a Yahoo!-like global portal navigation bar at the top of their pages & Google+ gets over-represented in the organic search results. Even while not logged in & doing advanced longtail searches Google still shows promotional Google+ boxes like this one:
A couple years ago Amit Singhal said:
“We deal with those responsibilities by having very concrete principles. All rankings are decided algorithmically, and the focus is on user benefit, not advertiser or commercial benefit. We ask ourselves, ‘Can a random company who does not want to be part of any Google system be harmed by a change we’re proposing?’ If they are, we won’t do it.”
Today that is simply not true.
Then again, who would expect the head of organizing the world's information during the information age to have a year or two of foresight? Or, is the double-speak intentional:
"Things keep happening where you can’t even trust [Google's] word. I don’t think they were ever not evil." - Danny Sullivan
Now that Google may show AdWords ads at the bottom of the search results, Google is testing showing fewer organic listings on navigational searches. In some cases the 7 Google Places listings act as 7 results & the search results only contain 3 other listings. What's even uglier than this is a new enhanced AdWords sitelink option where a single ad unit takes up nearly a third of the screen real estate on a large monitor (and much more on a smaller screen).
And that doesn't account for all of Google's various vertical search services & the ways Google inserts itself into the sales stream, with...
- Google Checkout & Google Wallet
- Software: Android Apps, Chrome Apps & their Enterprise Marketplace @ google.com/enterprise/marketplace/
- Google Offers
- Google Books ebook sales
- Google Music song downloads
- YouTube movie rentals
As Google redefines how credit is shared & competes more directly against publishers, those publishers need to adjust their business models. If Google grows too parasitic & captures too much of the value creation they will turn the media against them & give billions of Dollars worth of coverage to smaller search upstarts that actually respect their users.
Along with the nepotistic portalization of search, the rise of algorithmic journalism that can turn Tweets into an automated story puts further pressure on publishers. As the web becomes a series of walled gardens the opportunity in SEO diminishes, which is why some SEO websites want to drop the SEO label.
Want to see what Google will look like in a couple years? Set your default search engine to Yahoo! or Ask & you can see the future today. The push for social garbage & nepotism over quality will last until Google's search traffic chart looks like the above Yahoo! chart. At that point we will focus more on Bing & other search engines.