The battle for search loyalty drives innovation
By Charlene Li
I recently published extensive consumer survey data on search loyalty, toolbar usage, and search effectiveness (note: the full report is available only to Forrester clients). Here's the summary and a few of the key findings from the report.
"Although Google has a commanding lead in the number of online consumers regularly using its search tools, the fact that users frequently use another search engine opens the door for defection. MSN's beta launch of its own search engine -- as well as continued innovation from Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves, and new entrants -- means that Google will see plenty of challenges as the battle for search moves to the desktop, mobile devices, multimedia files, and industry verticals. Major search players will play a central role but will slowly cede ground to search specialists."
Our online survey of North American households showed that:
+ Google continues to lead as the site consumers use most frequently to search the Internet, while Yahoo! lost share from 2003.
+ MSN gained substantial share as the default home page for online consumers. <br />+ Among Google's loyal searchers, many were likely to have MSN and Yahoo! as their default home pages, opening up the possibility that these portals will regain search loyalty.
+ MSN has a slight lead in the percent of consumers who use its toolbar.
+ Almost half of all toolbar users also use another toolbar.
+ Google tops the list in terms of search effectives (as ranked by their own loyal searchers) but overall quality remains poor, leading consumers to use multiple search engines.
The result: "Each of the major portals and search sites will engage in a game of one-upmanship -- Google launched its desktop search product and all the rest will follow -- MSN has acknowledged it will debut its product shortly, and AOL, Yahoo!, and Ask Jeeves are all expected to follow suit. MSN launched local search, and others will follow. Rather than getting too caught up in such copycatting, search players should be making investments in deepening the loyalty of their existing users."
I believe that even as the major search players continue to extend their reach, growing consumer sophistication will mean that specialized search will make their debut -- and stick. Look at Singing Fish for audio/video search, local-i.com for local search, and Feedster for RSS feeds. And don't forget that there are already many examples of vertical "search" engines with access to proprietary databases, such as cars.com, Expedia, and Monster. So look out big guys -- even as you extend your rearch beyond Web search, look out for the little guys who will start chipping away at your users.