Does Anybody Care About the Search Alliance in Europe?

Last week Yahoo announced that the Search Alliance would not be going ahead in Europe in 2011 and that Panama would continue to be the platform for managing PPC ads on Yahoo in the UK and France.

In the U.S. this might have seemed important news in the European search space. In fact, the reactions of many in Europe can be described as a Gaelic shrug of the shoulders or a bout of British sarcasm.

So the question has to be asked: does anybody in Europe care about the Search Alliance?

It’s the Market Share, Stupid

A reality check for anybody about to enter the European search market: Google owns the market. That’s one way to describe their market share — another is “dominates.”

While Bing and Yahoo climbed to a 30 percent share in the U.S., they have less than 10 percent in the UK — and aren’t doing much better on mainland Europe or Ireland. A separate Yahoo Ireland site was only recently launched in preparation for the stalled alliance.

Low market shares don’t just influence the European finances of the search engines — they have a very real impact on European search marketers. Most of their time and money goes on Google — where the volume and ROI is.

Campaigns on Yahoo and Bing offer lower volumes, often uncompetitive ROI, and are on two platforms that simply don’t come close to AdWords in terms of ease of use or sophistication of features.

Not surprisingly, for some campaigns, Yahoo and Bing are simply off the consideration list. Increasingly the preference is to trial CPC ads on Facebook or LinkedIn or start remarketing through AdWords or a third party like Criteo. They are all comparatively new, offer different features, and show the marketer is innovating.

Struggling with a desktop search editor, by comparison, won’t win anybody plaudits from their client or boss.

What About the EU Bureaucrats?

As I’ve mentioned before, the EU are looking at Google from a monopoly point of view and have asked some very specific questions of the industry.

However the wheels of the EU turn slowly, and the likelihood of an intervention anytime soon that will boost Yahoo or Bing’s market shares is unlikely — if not undesirable. Nobody wants to see Google hobbled in favor of less-than-cutting-edge platforms that will soak up more of search marketers time. That would be bad for everyone.

Competition is Good, But is This Competition?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m passionately in favor of competition, especially in search. Let’s be honest, the wealth Google and its founders are accumulating from PPC means they are able to challenge in nearly any market they enter, from price comparison (buying to the race to build a space elevator to the quest to understand Parkinson’s disease.

With that sort of financial might at their disposal, competition in search (and everywhere else) is vital to keeping Google honest and in check. But right now, I simply can’t see how Bing and Yahoo! can compete.

It’s easier for Bing and Yahoo to attract advertisers when they have one combined platform, sure, but actually their market share will still be less than 10 percent in the UK, and the same arguments will apply. Is that really giving Google a run for its money? No. Not by a long shot.

We Want to Care, But…

A lot of people I’ve spoken to want to see Yahoo and Bing do well and give Google a run for its money. I’ve written and said as much more times than I care count.

We want to care, we really do — the people at both companies are hard working, dedicated and some of the nicest in the industry, and were working hard with us to get ready for the alliance. But it now feels like the last shreds of enthusiasm have been spent.

By the time the alliance finally comes to Europe, we’ll all be too busy managing campaigns on Facebook to notice.

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