Steve Ballmer, speaking at the Search Engine Marketing Expo this week, credited Google with being the first company to get internet search done right. Google certainly wasn't the first internet search engine. Yahoo!, InfoSeek, Excite and Alta Vista to name but a few, came along long before Google emerged in the late 90s. What Google did was provide relevant results in a way that no other search engine had done before. It simply had (and still has) an uncanny way of finding the information you need in the first few results.
Amidst all of the expansion at Google from search into applications, a browser, an OS, a phone OS and even a phone; it's easy to forget that Google has always been first and foremost, an internet search engine. It's what it did first and it still what it does best.
The Value of Incumbency
Ballmer could be a bit frustrated, a bit jealous and bit tired of Google's success. Specifically, he said, "The number one thing that Google benefits from in search is that they did it right, first. There's value to incumbency." Well, yes there is. As users we have a tendency to use a tool until we have a reason not to use it anymore. I've written before, that no matter how good Bing may be (or not be), it doesn't really matter to most users. Some will try the new thing because it's new, but unless there is a compelling reason to change, most will stick with what works. And let's face it. Google works.
The Downside of Being the Target
Google has learned recently that being number 1 has its downside. Suddenly (as I wrote in Anti-Google Sentiment Reaches a Tipping Point), it's a big target for naysayers, litigators and haters. As I wrote:
It's never easy being the top dog. It's human nature to want to see you taken down a notch. It's common in sports and business. People get tired of the same team/company winning...
And although Google may find itself under attack these days, it continues to innovate. Like many big companies with lots of resources, it throws a lot of stuff out there and sees what sticks. Not everything is a winner, but enough of the tools are that it keeps us coming back, and through it all, that search engine remains a steadfast and true core for the company.
Ballmer's Respect or Derision
Ballmer has to be pleased on one level that Bing has gained as much market share as it has, but it hasn't come cheaply. Microsoft has paid millions of dollars in ad money to buy that share, whereas Google almost never advertises and has grown its market more organically. Ballmer admits that it's unlikely that his company's search engine will ever be number one in the US. Sure he has high hopes for it, but he's also realistic when he says the short term goal is to gain a few points of market share and to keep moving forward.
Microsoft has done a decent job with Bing, but the fact is that world really doesn't need another search engine. The one most folks use is just fine right now and Ballmer's right. Google got it done first and there's no real reason for most to change, no matter how much money Microsoft throws at it. As they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.