It is official, search engine wars are in full swing. On Tuesday, February 01, 2005 MSN officially rolled out its new search solution to all of its websites, including MSN.com. This comes on heels of growing speculation that Google plans to launch its own browser, possibly in an attempt to attack Microsoft’s greatest strength in Internet Explorer. Is it possible that MSN actually rolled out their search engine to prevent Google from doing same thing they did to Yahoo! with release of Gmail?
Google appears to have been planning a browser for some time. In April of 2004 they purchased domain gbrowser.com (notice similarity to gmail.com) and recently they lured two of lead developers on Firefox browser project to join Google team. When asked what their role would be at Google, both developers were unable to specify what their roles were. Yet with Firefox’s relative success at chipping away Internet Explorer’s stronghold on browser market, Google is certain to take notice of minds that were able to make a dent in Internet Explorer stronghold.
Google Has a History of Attacking Strengths
The common thought when considering an attack on a competitor is to attack their weaknesses. Google, true to their history of bucking tradition, has a history of doing just opposite. Rather than attacking their potential competitor’s strengths, Google identifies its competitor’s strengths and attacks those strengths directly. This is exactly what they did when they launched Gmail.
Before launch of Gmail, search engine wars were being anticipated by SEO community. Yahoo! had acquired Overture and Inktomi and had announced its plans to abandon Google search results. Similarly, MSN had announced that they too would be leaving Google’s search results and would develop their own internal search technology. Both Yahoo! and MSN posed a real threat to steal a significant portion of Google’s search market. However, at time, Yahoo! proved to be more imminent threat as they would go to market with a proven search technology in Inktomi and an established advertising network with Overture.
Yahoo!’s real strength in attacking Google was draw that their portal had. The tool that offered Yahoo! most certain return traffic was Yahoo! Mail. Although Yahoo! has several different tools that bring users back time and time again, nothing was as powerful as their email system. As people came back to Yahoo! to use their e-mail, or other tools for that matter, hope was that they would grow to become loyal to Yahoo!’s search results as well.
Google realized strength of Yahoo! Mail, so they launched Gmail as an offensive on Yahoo!’s greatest strength. At time Google launched Gmail, they were offering 10 times amount of space, an obvious attempt to gain press and increase desirability of Gmail.
MSN Search Provides a Bigger Threat
Although MSN Search currently holds a smaller share of search engine market than Yahoo! or Google, they are actually bigger threat to Yahoo!. Yahoo! had ability to push their search results to millions of people who come to their portal to use their tools. If Google is able to provide users with same tools that they find at Yahoo!, users no longer have a reason to visit Yahoo!. However, any computer user who is using Windows most likely will use Internet Explorer, even if it is to eventually download an alternate browser, and we all know that most people are comfortable enough with Internet Explorer to not even look for an alternative.
Because MSN has constant attention of consumers through Internet Explorer, they have many more channels to push their search results through. Do not be surprised if next version of Internet Explorer comes with a search bar included as well as more redirects to MSN search results when a bad address is typed in address bar. As long as MSN has such a strong majority of browser market they will be able to push their search results.
MSN also has advantage of developing a new search technology. Yahoo! entered search engine battles using technology that web searches had been using for years in Inktomi. The problem is that users had already used Inktomi search results and had chosen Google instead. Although Yahoo! made changes to algorithm that powered Inktomi’s results, changes were not significant enough to make a strong distinction from Google’s search results. Whether MSN results will be of a significantly higher quality than Google is yet to be seen, but by developing a new search technology, MSN has ability to provide users with significantly different results than Google.