Speaking about consumer search last week, Steve Ballmer said he now regrets that Microsoft quote "didn't start earlier" unquote. But it seems to me that Microsoft has been all in for a long time and they just haven't been very successful at consumer search. It wasn't so much they gave in, as consumers simply preferred Google. It's unclear if Bing can change that in spite of Ballmer and Microsoft's best efforts to convince us otherwise.
Did They Give Up or Get Rolled Over?
According to searchenginehistory.com Google launched in 1998 and Microsoft launched its first search offering MSN Search the same year. While Google relied on its own algorithms to generate results, Microsoft used other companies' search engine technology until 2004 when they began using their own. From this perspective, I suppose Ballmer is accurate, but in the 5 years since Microsoft began using its own technology to generate results, it hasn't gotten very far.
They have rebranded a number of times, but never with much success. Now they are really, really serious with Bing, or so we are lead to believe. They are at the very least willing to invest huge sums of money to the tune of $100 million trying to convince us that Bing should be our search engine.
Early Success Out of the Gate
People seem to be jumping on Bing's early success, but even if Bing succeeded over the next year in doubling their search engine market share, it would only result in them having 16 percent of the market. When you start with just over 8 percent as Microsoft has had in the last two months of Comscore's search ratings, a new coat paint can't hurt that's for sure.
Ballmer would have us believe Bing really has it going on or as he put it, "we’ve got our mojo working now." Sure, you do Steve. It's three weeks into it, let's check back in a year and see how well you're doing.
Why Not Buy Some Market Share
For a long time, rumors persisted that Microsoft was going to buy Yahoo! (as I wrote in Microsoft and Yahoo! Attempt to Kiss and Make Up), but it just hasn't happened yet. If Microsoft really wants to get some bang for its buck, why don't they skip the ad campaign and buy Yahoo! and its 20 percent market share. That combined with Microsoft's own market share, and assuming they get some lift with Bing would put them in another area code in the search engine game. Suddenly they would be half the size of Google. Now we're talking.
And it's puzzling to me why Microsoft hasn't pulled the trigger. If anything, Yahoo!'s cost has probably gone down. Of course, there's no guarantee that a combined Microsoft-Yahoo! would result in 30-35 percent market share. Sometimes these things don't work out as planned, the cultures don't mix well or the companies fail to combine their technologies efficiently, but it seems to me it's worth a shot because it gives Microsoft its best chance to gain some significant ground on rivals Google.
It might not take a bite of Google's market, but it can increase its own dramatically. And if you could do that, why not try? That would give them a heck of a lot more "mojo" than Bing alone.
The scary question to ponder is why? There is money to be made in search through advertising and so forth, but there's money to be made in a lot of tech areas that Microsoft is not strong in or even involved in. Why are they so worried about competing with Google on search?