Google Gains; Ask…Loses?

May 22, 2006

Topics: Search Marketing.

It’s a little surprising to see that Ask.com has actually lost market share in the last couple of months. Given their television marketing blitz of the last quarter, it’s surprising that their business hasn’t made at least SOME move upwards. It looks the answer to the burning question is a big "NO".

Of course, their 5.8% of searches for April of 2006 is still 382,800,000 searches. But out of the 6.35 billion searches performed in March, they had accrued 387,350,000. Hopefully, their second run at TV advertising will be more successful.

I have mixed feelings about Ask.com – the fact is, I almost never use them. They’ve got some great services – take their mapping service. I love the way it works – I enjoy using it when I think of it, and it has features which are near and dear to my heart – like walking directions. Yet, it’s never the first thing that comes to my mind when I’m looking for a map.

Why is this? Certainly, the tv commercials have no impact on me at all – I rarely watch television, and have never seen any of their commercials. On the other hand, I’ve looked at their materials in depth and compared them to others – I know what they offer, I know what I like about it – yet, I turn to Google.

I know that the answer is ultimately force of habit. Google started off with an easy to use, simple, straightforward product. They’ve added much more complex features to it since then, yet I react as if they were still the small company whose product I used when they were a hopeful startup. Ask, on the other hand, began as a question answering service which gradually morphed into their current rich search offering. But a question answering service never bore any interest for me – so the habits I developed were with Google.

This same logic holds true with both MSN and Yahoo for me – I don’t use them because they started as parts of complex structures. Web directories, extra offerings, free email, customizable homepages – I wasn’t interested in any of these. I just wanted to search the web and retrieve a useful result.

Perhaps this is an important thing to note when starting a business – it’s easier to create one simple product well than develop dozens and try and compete. Is this where Google may go wrong now? I wonder. Looking at information such as the Hitwise data on Google’s domains I can’t help but notice that only five of their top products make up greater than 0.5% of their business. Does this mean that Search is keeping them successful, or does it mean that their other projects are dragging them down?

Since they continue to gain in overall market share, it’s hard to believe that their harming themselves today – but the long run is always a hard call.

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