Search is not a zero cost switch

New search startups come and go, but the ever-present meme seems to be the “zero switching cost” between an established competitor and a newcomer. In the old days this was certainly true, as any user could simply update your browser bookmarks or homepage, replacing WebCrawler with Excite or AltaVista. As the web grew search became an integrated component of large websites, networks, and the desktop software powering the entire experience.

Google is spending billions to integrate its search products into the Apple operating system, new Dell PCs, MySpace, Firefox, and more. Google commands about a 50% share of the U.S. toolbar search market according to comScore. Google powers search on sites with lots of pages such as newspaper, university, and personal websites. A developer platform further diversifies these sources of traffic, turning the long tail of search origination into site revenue.

If a new search engine comes online they not only have to launch a compelling destination site and service, they will also have to unseat the entrenched sources of traffic (and revenue) spread across the entire technology landscape. Google gained existing user traffic not just from Excite and AltaVsita, but also the Thunderstone site searchers, Yahoo! toolbar users, and anyone who bucked the trend of the default pre-installed homepage and tools.

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Commentary on "Search is not a zero cost switch":

  1. Adam Jusko on wrote:

    I don’t believe that Google’s advantage is so large because of its entrenchment, I think it’s large because overall Google is pretty good at what it does.

    Our site Bessed is building a human-powered search site that tries to fill in the holes of what a robot-based engine like Google can’t do, but Google does an awful lot of things very well.

    I needed to find the rules for my son’s Uno Attack game yesterday and found them in seconds from a search on Google. Maybe other engines can and will do this better, but the real hurdle is that Google already does so much so well.

  2. as on wrote:

    The key is spending billions to integrate with MySpace, Dell, etc. There is really nothing complicated or interesting about this integration that provides Google a competitive advantage — this is all about dollars and cents. Google is just writing big checks and some will debate whether or not these are ROI positive deals for them, but if Yahoo or MSN one day improve their monetization capability (which is the real competitive advantage) and decide they want to write big checks to secure some distribution then all the Dell, MySpace, etc. of the world will all flip over in a matter of weeks.

  3. Ravi Mhatre on wrote:

    Google certainly has enviable consumer mindshare and distribution reach. However, a number of next-generation search engines are able to deliver significantly better results in vertical domains which (see more details on my Lightspeed Blog post via attached link). This implies the ability to deliver higher CTR and CPC yields which means that new engines, over time, should have the economic leverage to strike distribution deals and gain consumer awareness despite Google’s dominant position.