In a “what’s wrong with this picture?” moment, AdWeek reports that Forrester Research has concluded that Google, for lack of user loyalty, is vulnerable to being dethroned and that another “Google Killer” may be lurking just around the corner. First the caveats and then the criticism of these findings and their implications.
All of my comments that follow are based upon the AdWeek summary of the findings and conclusions of the Forrester survey (n=4,800 US users). Here’s the most important bit of that summary:
[Forrester] found that brand loyalty to search engines is quite low. That coupled with the lowest of switching costs makes the still nascent search market an open playing field, the researcher concludes.
Over half of respondents said they search using multiple engines. Just 20 percent use Google exclusively. Yahoo is the exclusive engine for 8 percent, AOL by 3 percent and MSN a piddling 1 percent.
The problem with this research is that we’ve heard this sort of thing many times before and it’s never come true — never. In fact, Google has continued to gain share as competition has intensified over the past several years.
Another example of supposedly predictive survey data that failed to predict the future, in 2007 the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found that Yahoo had edged Google in overall satisfaction for the first time. According to Larry Freed, President and CEO of ForeSee Results, which sponsors and interprets the “e-business” component of the ACSI this was supposed to be predictive of coming search share gains by Yahoo in the near future.
Here’s the relevant discussion from my post at the time:
The satisfaction data clearly don’t correlate with search market share. I asked Freed in this context why people should care and pay attention to the ACSI. Freed was confident that “search market share reflects past behavior. But the ACSI is predictive of future consumer behavior.” He said that historically it has been a very accurate gauge of future consumer behavior in other industries. He added that Google’s decline was a second dip in a row after a smaller decline last year.
But Freed and his predictive indicators were wrong: Google continued to gain share. And the following year Google rebounded in the ACSI.
Turning back the clock, analytics and traffic measurement firm Compete found in 2006 that Google had the greatest loyalty (by far) among a crowded field of search engines. (Here’s a contemporaneous write up of those findings by Danny.) And here’s discussion of another survey from Outsell, also from 2006, that shows Google as the top engine for “information workers.” I could go on with other examples that reflect similar findings.
Beyond this, several times, Google has been named the top global brand. All this generally reinforces Google’s “top of mind” association with search.
If one wanted to find other examples arguing in favor of Google’s (and/or search’s) potentially impending decline, as do the Forrester findings, one could cite that same 2006 Outsell survey which found apparently “rising dissatisfaction” with search. There’s also a 2007 survey from AutoByTel that argues consumers will increasingly turn to “vertical search” out of frustration with general “search engine fatigue.” Certainly people have used and continue to use specialized vertical sites. But that hasn’t impacted search volumes, which grew in December to 12.7 billion monthly queries in the US according to comScore.
Moreover, just a week or so ago, the Pew Internet & American life project reported that only search and email show consistent penetration and usage across age/demographic categories compared with other digital media activities.
While people undoubtedly use more than one search engine, as the Forrester data argue, Google’s near-term displacement at the hands of another internet search engine is so unlikely as to be almost impossible. That’s not to argue that Yahoo or Microsoft can’t gain share in search however.
It is possible that over the course of the next 5 to 7 years another strong competitor could arise to diminish Google’s position and centrality in the consumer internet experience. However that anticipated “Google killer” is less likely to be a conventional search engine than an alternative “platform” (social media is one that was perceived as search-threatening). The potential successor to Google is more likely to come in the form of new information access technologies or digital platforms (e.g., mobile, internet on TV) — or something very provocative like this.
Postscript: Forrester read this article and sent me the report, which is quite different than what was represented in AdWeek. The report doesn’t actually argue that Google is vulnerable as the AdWeek piece does. It reports data (n=5,400) from a larger Q3 “Retail Online Survey,” an aspect of which is search engine usage. The thrust of the argument in the report is that marketers should not ignore and can reach different audiences through search engines other than Google and Yahoo.