Search has come along way in recent years – but what is the future of search in Europe and how do the major players see search developing over the coming years?
A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2005 Conference, June 1-2, London
In the first session at the start of Day 1, Google, MSN & Yahoo were preparing to present their ideas and vision to a room full of marketers, press and agencies on how they see search developing and their own corporate strategies for 2005/06. Alongside the big 3 was Nielson/NetRatings and Hitwise there to give the raw facts and figures on the current state of the search market place. Future Vision
Ian Carrington, Google UK was up first presenting Google’s vision, which was ‘simply’ to make information more organised and most importantly universally accessible to everyone – whether via the web, mobile phones or any device from ‘anywhere’.
David Graham, MSN UK followed a similar theme and noted their strategy was to expand via multiple access points such as through other Microsoft software such as MSN Messenger, Outlook and Office.
Graham also mentioned the upcoming launch of MSN’s Search Toolbar to complete with versions from Yahoo and Google. Salim Mitha (Yahoo) noted the distribution of their Search Toolbar will be essential over coming years – hence the recent development of their Toolbar for the fast growing Mozilla Firefox. Interestingly, if this is so essential, MSN clearly has the upper hand with their immense penetration of Microsoft software brands worldwide.
When MSN’s Search Toolbar integrates with MS Office, how many people will stop bothering to open their web browsers and use other engines? And how much of Google’s share of the search market will begin to get eaten up?
MSN are already a dominant player at number 2 in Europe, and according to Graham, they have invested 100 million dollars in the previous 20 months. With Microsoft’s track record with software and games consoles it could easily be argued that there will be a new number one within years.
Things to look out for not mentioned by the big 3 are Pay Per Call, a new search model showcased by Espotting. Launched in the UK and US. They argue that this model is a big opportunity for SMEs, in particular those without a web site who target local geographical regions.
Growth / Trends
All agreed search is still buoyant and growing further. As expected Broadband penetration in Europe is continuing to fuel growth and people are spending more time online. Each of the big 3 also acknowledged the strong prospects in Mobile search.
Google noted the trend of integration of campaigns offline and trend to increase interest and traffic online from online methods. They also see the changing users behaviour as a factor and cited the mobile text language ‘I want 2 C U’ as something that search vendors need to consider.
Personalisation was talked about extensively by all search vendors. Yahoo talked about MyWeb – their excellent beta tool for saving exact copies of web pages which they believe will see the end of bookmarks. Another Yahoo beta tool is Yahoo Mindset which uses machine learning to give users choice on how search results should be sorted.
The importance of local search and delivering local relevance tailored to the user, country and language was repeated endlessly. The best examples are from Google with their maps, weather reports and Google Local UK which is already an integral part of their search offering.
Trends noted were the increase in news search, usage of RSS feeds, image and video search
According to Yahoo, Toolbars now account for 8% of search – of which Google and Yahoo own 95%. As a result of the aggressive toolbar distribution strategies by Google, Yahoo and MSN (coming soon!), the surprising 8% statistic looks set to increase strongly over coming years.
Currently Google and Yahoo are the most active with new beta tools being released continuously. In comparison MSN appear very quiet to outsiders, however, it’s no secret that their innovations may be released in the next major Operating System, currently codenamed ‘Longhorn’.
MSN showed a graph that identified percentage shares of the big 3 in Europe, which showed Google sitting at 61% with MSN sitting way behind with 20.6%. It was interesting that Graham showed this graph with the strap line ‘Google No.1 for now!’ – and given Microsoft’s huge 100 million dollar investment, incredible installed base of Toolbar-ready software, upcoming OS system and ‘new seriousness’ in search – some would argue these figures might be reversed within 2-3 years.
Nielson/NetRatings presented some useful stats on country shares of the search market. Germany (29%) and UK (23%) are the largest search markets, followed by France (18%) and Italy (16%). Europe is dominated by Google (1st) and MSN (2nd), but the market market is still big enough for local players like Voila (2nd in France) and Virgilio (3rd in Italy).
The coming year may see smaller players that focus on local country needs getting stronger, for example, Ask Jeeves in the UK who are currently running a million pound off line TV advertising campaign. Hitwise emphasised the huge opportunities for innovative new entrants and strong brands.
There are different challenges from different perspectives. From a marketer’s point of view the challenge is to focus on generating quality referrals from search engines that convert to sales or leads.
Things are moving fast, some of the beta tools being developed by Yahoo and Google are exciting. The challenge for them is to get these new tools properly integrated with their main search engine quickly.
Search is still undeveloped in some areas. Most of us love search, but being critical think about how search engines do not understand contexts/multiple meanings, the dead links/outdated information, and the poor quality pages you come across before finding the information you really want.
The mainstream search experience is still not personalised and does not learn or adapt to our behaviour. It is difficult to search off the web and is not particularly well integrated or east to use via Mobile and other applications.
The big challenge for the search vendors is who is going to solve these problems and how quickly?
In terms of innovation, so far Google have done an great job – and the vision statement presented by Ian Carrington of Google pretty much covers all the above. Yahoo is certainly trying to catch up and MSN are quiet but lying in waiting and not forgetting the smaller local players jockeying for a position.
The race is on, see you at SES 2006.