Why It Will Be So Easy To Switch Away From Google Search

December 4, 2006

My friend and colleague Brian Halligan has written an exceptionally interesting article in his internet marketing blog  today titled “Why Google Will Set The Record For The Greatest Market Cap Loss In A Single Month”.  

I highly encourage you to read it, as it is a pretty thoughtful look at a relatively controversial topic (particularly given Google’s ability to defy it’s detractors time and time again).

Personally, I agree with Brian’s take on this (the two of us have discussed and debated this over the past week or so).  

I think the most important point made in the article is the lack of a real “switching” cost for Google search users.  As an example, if you’re an avid Google Reader user (that’s Google’s RSS reader), you are much less likely to switch to another product because you have an investment in their RSS reader.  You’ve spent time getting your feeds in.  You know the keyboard short-cuts.  You have trained your mind to scan information in the Google Reader user interface.  It would be non-trivial to get you to switch.  The longer you use it, the less likely you are to switch.  On the other hand, you probably use Google Search a lot more.  But, what’s your investment?  How hard would it be to switch?

Lets look at this a bit more deeply. 

Why It Will Be So Easy To Switch Away From Google Search
  1. Low Training Investment:  You have very minimal investment in Google Search.  Because it is so simple, you got use out of it right away (this was one of the reasons Google was able to grow it’s market-share so quickly in the early days).  Only a small fraction of Google’s users use the advanced features of it’s search engine (like boolean operators) and there’s no reason why the same syntax could not be offered in a similar engine anyways.

  1. Low Customization Investment:  You have not spent hours and hours “configuring” your Google Search experience to be what you want it to be.  Unlike other software applications (like if you use one of the web-based portals or personalized start pages).  If a new and better search engine comes along, it is unlikely you are going to think “Holy crap!  What am I going to do with all of my custom settings, configurations, etc.”.  There is no such thing.

  1. Easy Experimentation:  If you do suspect there is a better search engine, it is easy to “experiment” with it first.  You don’t have to make the complete switch-over immediately and abandon Google.  Perhaps you begin by just a few searches on the new engine (especially when Google isn’t delivering what you want).  Over time, you gradually determine for yourself whether the new engine is better than Google.  This ability to ease into a new tool would make it much easier for users to switch.  They can date before getting married.

  1. Better Results Are Obvious:  Let’s face it, we’ve all done searches on Google before where the results were less than satisfying. The average user doesn’t have to understand the details of the Google algorithm or the fact that Google has a world-class infrastructure of thousands of servers in order to judge the results.  They’re either what she wanted, or they’re not.  Each individual search user can make the determination as to whether the outcome was close to what was desired.  When testing one result-set against another, even a non-expert use can decide which is better.  So, if another search engine is better someday, it doesn’t have to be proven to be better, it just has to be better – in real-world user scenarios.    This is subtle, but important.

So, what’s your take?  Have you found yourself experimenting with the other search engines?  Do you have a sneaking suspicion, like I do, that Microsoft search has really gotten better over the last year and the gap between Microsoft and Google has gotten narrower?  Would you switch if a better solution came along?  Would love to read your thoughts in the comments.  

Written by Dharmesh Shah


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