The world of search is dominated by Google, everyone can agree on that fact. Looking at market share we also see that Yahoo is the clear #2 in the market right now. Bringing up the rear (yes, I’m basically limiting the field to three) we have Microsoft Live Search and up to this point I have consigned MSN to perpetual failure.
Money, Money, Money!
Microsoft’s previous efforts to gain market share have revolved around, essentially, bribery. The first effort was the creation of Microsoft Live Search Club. The objective of this program was to inflate MSN’s search numbers by creating a bunch of word games that ran a search for every correct answer. The incentive to actually play the games? Prizes! I myself acquired a Zune for 20,000 points. A great idea, but inevitably unable to move the needle.
Attempt #2 was Microsoft Live Search Cashback. This program took bribery to the next level by paying cash to get people to search with MSN. To get the money all you had to do was search for a product on MSN and then buy it through a qualified seller. Lots of companies got on board because Microsoft was footing the bill and pay they did. However, the temporary boost in market share soon faded, seemingly confirming my belief that Microsoft just didn’t have what it takes to compete.
Microsoft Ready to Play With the Big Boys Now!
My change of opinion came at CES 2009. In his keynote address Steve Ballmer came out with the usual stuff about the next Windows (7 or something?) OS and some other software stuff, but then he dropped what I consider the bomb-shell: Microsoft had locked up an exclusive search deal with Verizon, soon to be the largest cell phone carrier in the US. You read correctly, Verizon. The same Verizon that was talking to Google last year.
This means that Live Search will be the default search option for all internet-enable Verizon phones and Microsoft will be handling mobile ads on Verizon phones. Normally I wouldn’t give a default option so much credit because tech-savvy users just change it. However, internet-capable phones are proliferating at an astounding rate and the tech noobs are starting to buy smart phones when they upgrade. These people will be much less prone to changing the default and will likely just roll with their phone as is. Yes it will cost Microsoft around $600 million in shared ad revenue (that’s just the guaranteed part), but this might be the game changing move in search.
PS Lest I forget, Microsoft also made a deal with Dell to get their toolbar preinstalled on Dell machines. Also a nice move.