Live’s Erik Selberg On Microsoft’s Tough Search Challenge


Live Search Popularity, Oct 2005-Oct 2006

Talk about the
echo chamber
coming full circle. The stats on Microsoft’s search share
decline that I
posted
last week were commented on by Erik Selberg of Microsoft’s Live.com
search team in his
General disarray at The Big 3
post. He provides a fresh, honest assessment
of Microsoft’s search challenge ahead from someone in the rank-and-file:

Microsoft will continue to lose share until it can make Live.com something
people chose versus just the IE default. That will happen when the average
person starts to see Live.com as a bit better than Google. Right now, Google
wins on brand (people like them a lot) and quality, so it’s to be expected that
existing Yahoo / Live customers will migrate to Google than vice-versa and new
customers will pick Google more than Live or Yahoo.

If that sounds dismal, it gets worse:

Google is making people focus on features, which should tell people that
they’re worried about how we’re catching up, and are going to put more people on
their core products to keep and extend their lead. So it’s going to be a tough,
tough battle for Microsoft to get there

And how long a battle? We’ve had Microsoft execs say it would
take months
to overtake Google in quality to
years, with
the spin that we’re still in the early days. Erik’s in the realistic years camp:

While our management set the goal of having relevance that beat Google after
2 years (then 3, and I believe 4 now…) it’s not realistic to think that it can
be done quickly. If you ask Google, Yahoo, or the fine SEOs at
WebMasterWorld or other such
places, they’ll all say that Live Search has increased in quality over the years
so that it’s much closer to Yahoo and Google. Not yet better, but no longer
laughable. And yeah, we’ve done our own share of copying feature parity, and
we’re starting to do a few things that cause Google and Yahoo to do the same
(ok, noODP is a small feature, but it’s a start!).

How about some optimism? Erik sees Google’s stability working against it in some
ways, making it stagnant (see my
Why Search Sucks & You Won’t Fix It The Way You Think
post for more on
that concept). Potentially,
this is true. But realistically, I think the fact that Google has changed slowly
is reassuring to the searching audience.

Microsoft has changed four or five
times in radical ways over the past two years, including an entire brand change.
The last service to change so much like this was AltaVista, which I
joked
could give Madonna a run for her money in the image change department. None of
those changes helped AltaVista. For Microsoft, I think it would actually benefit
from really locking down the overall look-and-feel for an extended period. The
good news is, I suspect that’s actually going to be the case. New features seem
likely to be added, but yet another redesign doesn’t seem in the works.

I actually think Google’s weakness is the same as the weakness Erik sees with
Yahoo:

Yahoo is just in a rough place. They’ve got Google dominating, and they’ve
got us coming up from behind. So they’re trying to do everything to avoid
getting squeezed everywhere… and the result is too many people doing too many
things in a mediocre way (the buzz-speak is “not enough critical mass in several
areas”). Nothing surprising here either.

On the upside for Google and Yahoo lovers, both companies themselves
understand this. The now famous Yahoo "Peanut Butter"
memo covers
some at Yahoo internally understanding the issue, while in October, it
came out that
Google was supposedly refocusing on core product and cutting new releases — and
that all the frenetic activity had been hurting core search there.

Fully recognizing the challenge ahead, Erik’s still optimistic

Hopefully the chaos that starts out with a new Senior VP turns into increased
efficiency sooner versus later. I know I’m working as hard as I can to make this
happen sooner versus later, but nevertheless, it’s gonna be a stand-up fight
against someone who has reach over us. Time to be smart.

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