Google in the Crosshairs

The Motley Fool notes this about Google.

When you’re so good at what you do that your brand becomes a verb, the competition starts to notice, big time.

Uber-search engine Google is in this predicament, as both Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) are trying to cash in on search products of their own.

A Nielsen/Net Ratings study from February 2003, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal, found that Google attracts more users than either Yahoo! Search or Microsoft’s MSN Search, and that those visitors hang out longer on Google’s site. An estimated 40.3 million users logged on to Google for the month, versus 36.5 million for Yahoo! and 35.1 million for MSN. Google visitors stuck around for 25 minutes, compared to 11 minutes for Yahoo! and eight minutes for MSN.

Given those disparities, Yahoo! and Microsoft see an opportunity to take market share from Google. Bob Visse, director of marketing for MSN, said last week that Microsoft “… view(s) Google more and more as a competitor.” And although Google has actually powered Yahoo!’s searches for some time, Yahoo! signaled its desire to control the search game when it bought search infrastructure company Inktomi in December 2002.

Today, Yahoo! unveiled its new and improved search engine, which is supposed to better connect Yahoo!’s various services, such as news, weather, and local directory listings. The technology delves into Web pages and extracts information for users, much like Google does, rather than just answering a search request with a list of URLs. Registered Yahoo! visitors can also customize results, as on Google. Yahoo! will still make money off sponsored search results.

Microsoft’s plans are more embryonic. The software giant is investing heavily in improving its search capabilities, but nothing concrete has been announced. When Microsoft calls you out as a competitor, though, you better believe it means business.

Google has smartly remained mum about Yahoo!’s and Microsoft’s search plans. Surfers trust Google to give them the best results possible, and “Googling” has become an entrenched part of many users’ experience. Convincing them that Yahoo! and Microsoft can offer the same or better results will require a significant shift in thinking. Any huge market share gains by either Microsoft or Yahoo!, then, will likely be a long time coming.