I was reading a Facebook post by a friend today inviting others to try Bing (which currently offers a rewards plan for using it where you can get gift certificates for searching and clicking on sponsored links). I’ve also recently heard about duckduckgo.com, another up and coming search engine.
For the past few weeks I’ve been rotating between using Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo, and to be honest, I really can’t tell the difference anymore for most of my searches. If I were to do the same thing last year (when I first switched to Bing), there would be things I would need to fall back to Google for. I think a big part of this is that search in general is getting better, to the point where 90%+ of my searches on any engine will give me a relevant result on the first page.
This reminds me of what happened with wireless routers back in the day, when they were new, high margin devices and brands like Linksys, D-Link, and Netgear were clearly differentiated by feature sets, reliability, and UI. Don’t get me wrong, the same holds true today, but to be honest margins have dropped and the differences in terms of wireless performance are difficult for an average consumer to grasp. This lack of ability to differentiate a product leads to commoditization, where producers are unable to effectively market their product.
I think most people would agree today that a wireless router is a commodity. And I would like to think that there are a couple of parallels between that and search engines. Two things jump out at me about the wireless router market:
1. Figuring out which wireless router to buy is difficult. If you go read user reviews, you will see many 5 star and many 1 star ratings for the typical product. It’s impossible to tell who is credible unless you invest a significant amount of time reading reviews, go with the “average” assessment, or ask your friends what they use.
2. Due in part to #1, you stick with brands you know. For example, if you’re a Linksys person and you haven’t had issues with your last router, when time comes to replace it you will probably buy another Linksys product.
When it comes to search engines, I defy you for #1 to say that one search engine is always better than the other. Folks have their ingrained preferences, but if we were to objectively start from ground zero today (that is, you’ve never used a search engine), I think it would take you a while to figure out which one would work best for you, and even then, unless you have specialized needs such as development work, I would argue the differences are marginal.
For #2, like with routers, folks aren’t going to switch search engines unless they perceive a problem with their current solution. Let’s face it, most people on Google don’t feel like they have a problem today. Until the thought leaders start switching over to other search engines because of a remarkable improvement, it’s going to be an uphill battle for newcomers to the space, which brings us full circle to why Bing needs to incentivize you to switch.
What do you think? Feel like search engines are becoming a commodity?