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Why Some Search Engines Are Failing

EphronJohn Battelle notes that search engines like Looksmart, Findwhat, and Mamma.com are all trending down. What happened to the conventional wisdom that search advertising is the most accountable form of media?

I think search is going through the same (painful) process that cable TV programers went through years ago. Up until the late 1990s, the value of cable TV advertising always suffered in comparison to broadcast. While there were many arguments why this was the case, I believe the ultimate reason was TV measurement had been gamed from the start to favor broadcast.

Erwin Ephron relates how his late ex-partner Dick Raboy had a sign on his office wall. It read, “The Golden Rule. He who has the gold makes the rules.” This certainly applies to the ratings where he who has the biggest audience determines what we get to know. Likewise, I think search advertising is currently gamed to favor Google and Yahoo!

Simply put, Google has become synonymous with search. As a result, advertisers trust Google as a proxy for search which makes adoption less likely for any new search variant. Similarly, they really don't understand the nuances of new technologies like IPTV. Don't confuse their willingness to test with what it takes to earn their ad dollars, year in, year out.

Technology marketers in this vague new world need to make a decision. They can subscribe to their own Field of Dreams, hoping that when they build a cool new advertising vehicle, whether it be TiVo or IPTV, audiences will flock to it. Or, they can take the time to describe how they actually drive traffic, using metrics that researchers trust.

For example, if enough search companies take the time to provide advertisers with a consistent model of how search works, rather than how their approach to search is so different, we might yet realize Roger McNamee's vision of many flavors of commercially viable search.

Quo vadis, indeed.

Link: Ephron on A New Ratings Model (registration required)

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