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It is obvious the holidays are long over. While it is only the beginning of the third week of 2004, the ongoing battle between Google and Yahoo has heated up and is the most interesting subject in the search industry. Rumours about Google and Yahoo are abundant in the tech section of newspapers, in IT newsletters (the better ones anyway), daily articles and discussion forums. Behind those rumours stand literally tens of millions of hard-working people desperate to know which directions the industry will be going in over the next twelve months. Nobody wants another Christmas surprise like the one delivered by Google in 2003 and, given the sudden perception of volatility in the industry and the overall economy, nobody wants to make poor bets with their limited marketing budgets. As the gathering of as much information as possible allows advertisers, consumers and small businesses to make relativity informed decisions, it is in everyone’s best interests to share as much information as possible. The search engine world went through monumental changes last year and looks as if it will go through even more this year. With 2004 being labeled the “year of search”, a quick look at some of the anticipated changes is in order.
The biggest rumour of the year, eclipsing speculation about Google’s anticipated IPO, is the news that Yahoo! is likely to dump Google as their main listing provider in place of Inktomi. While the timing of this move has not been fully confirmed by Yahoo!,we expect it to come soon. Last week, Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel stated that, “Our short-term goal will be to have Yahoo throughout the entire world using our algorithmic search in Inktomi.” That statement, combined with common sense has led most, including StepForth, to conclude that Yahoo! will be drawing listing information from their in-house database, Inktomi sooner than later. In other news this week, Yahoo! has displaced Google as the leading search engine of choice starting in November 2003, according to figures released by analytics firm Nielsen/NetRatings. Traffic on the Yahoo! network was measured at 86.8 million unique visits in November to the 53.3 million unique visits at Google. Coupled with Semel’s pronouncements, the future does not look a certain for Google as it just eight short weeks ago. Today, Google continues to drive over 75% of all search traffic but when Yahoo! switches to Inktomi, that number will decrease to below 50%, a significant drop in daily viewers. This brings up the impact of MSN.com which is also displaying results from Inktomi.
Google is facing some of its most difficult but hopeful times in the short history of the search-firm. Everyone who works at Google is dreaming of the riches they are soon to acquire when their employer goes public. Think about the thousands of “Microsoft millionaires” out there. If you were working at Google, chances are you too would be crunching personal financial numbers with a dreamy smile on your face. Nevertheless, the truism that “Money cannot buy happiness” comes into play here. Remember back in high-school how important it was to be popular? Imagine being the smartest, strongest and most popular person in the class and then making a couple huge mistakes that made you look foolish in front of your peers. All the positive work you did over the years suddenly goes out the window as the rest of the class, smelling a sudden weakness, turns on you. That must be how it feels to be working at Google these days. Google has made a few major mistakes recently and, as evidenced above, their numbers are starting to show it. With a difference of over 32Million visitors in Yahoo!’s favour, the folks at Google must be getting worried. One wouldn’t know that when considering the four new, extremely useful features Google introduced this week. Through Google, users can now trace US Mail through the system, figure out a product by entering the UPC code, check into Vehicle ID numbers, and check out flight data for most major US airlines. All these features tie into paid services in one way or another and are seen by analysts as being introduced to increase the value of the coming IPO. Perhaps for the first time in its history, Google users are becoming acutely aware that Google’s management has its eyes firmly focused on the bottom line.
The odd-one out this week is MSN. There is very little new to report there today with one MAJOR exception. Tomorrow is the day that MSN fully adopts listings from Inktomi in place of LookSmart. We have seen Inktomi results bleeding into MSN in the past weeks but tomorrow’s listings at MSN should look as different as the new INDEX page at msn.com. As we have not yet seen the full effect of the switch-over from LookSmart to Inktomi, we don’t have enough information to build a solid article. I am looking forward to next week though…