Forrester Stats, Search Defection & Vertical Search

Charlene Li shares some stats from internal Forrester research about search loyalty in The battle for search loyalty drives innovation. Is Google facing defections? Will vertical search wipe out the big boys? Those are the suggestions, but things aren't that simple.

A key finding is that Google has a lead among consumers who regularly use its tools, but these consumers also frequently use other tools as well. The suggestion is that this leaves the door open for "defection."

Yep -- and that's always been the case. We've long had reports that consumers use multiple search services. But the classic AltaVista to Google defection example shows that defection tends to happen not just because another tool is better but also because the existing tool is bad.

In other words, my view is that it's not that MSN needs to be "good enough" to get people from Google or even "better than Google" to gain defectors. People will only kick the Google habit if they feel Google is getting worse.

If Google itself continues to be "good enough," helping consumers find what they are looking for most of the time, I don't think you'll see big defections happen. In fact, if AltaVista had continued to be "good enough," Google might never have been able to emerge as the powerhouse it is today. But AltaVista wasn't good enough -- it had gotten bad.

Notable from the report is the fact that despite the threats to Google, it continues to lead among consumers while Yahoo is said to have lost some share of searchers this year compared to last.

There's also a finding that the major search engines will "cede ground" to "search specialists." Sure, that will happen. If there's a good vertical search tool, people will learn to go to it. Heck, consider the people who already head directly Amazon to buy a book. They've learned it provides answers they need, so there's no need to search the web (My past article, Avoiding The Search Gap, looks at this type of behavior more).

So the threat is there -- but also is the reality that if a great vertical pops up, it's likely the major search engines will buy into the space or develop their own:

  • Yahoo recently bought FareChase to build up its travel specialty.
     
  • AOL bought Singingfish last year to have multimedia search in house (and recently relaunched the service.)
     
  • Google's Froogle shopping search engine is one of the few products the company deliberately created internally to focus on that vertical area, rather than letting it develop naturally out of engineering interests as with Google News.

Forrester's stats also found:

  • MSN gained users who have it as their home page and has a lead in toolbar usage, which is either pretty odd or amazing given the toolbar was only released earlier this year. Forrester also found that half of all toolbar users use another toolbar, as well.
     
  • Many loyal Google users still have Yahoo or MSN as their home pages. No doubt, this is in part because Google's stealth portal features aren't fully exposed.

    The general population can't have a Gmail account yet, for example -- so there's no reason for some to start out at Google as part of the daily "check my email" experience. Google still doesn't offer things like stock portfolios, as well. Google News is probably the company's most "sticky" service in terms of where people might start out.
     
  • Google was tops for "search effectiveness" but overall quality was said to be "poor," which is why consumers are said by Forrester to use multiple search engines. I really can't comment more about this apparent weakness without a lot more detail of why search effectiveness is deemed different from quality. That's not given in the summary release.