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May 20, 2009

Niche Search, New Search Features and Who Out There Cares – SEM Synergy Extras

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Photo by Paolo Camera via Creative Commons

On SEM Synergy this afternoon, our WebmasterRadio podcast on all things search, we dedicated some time to Wolfram Alpha and the crop of search solutions that constantly challenge Google’s market share dominance. Barbara Baker of Kolbe Market Consultants took some time to talk about what a search engine would have to offer before it was considered a threat to Google. Certainly there was a time when Google wasn’t on the radar, but once there, Google has never been content as runner up.

It may be this hypercompetitive approach to being all things to all people which has led to Google conspiracy theories and mafia parallels. But no one can deny that the search leader continues to guide the pack in innovation. For example, several new products and features were introduced at last week’s Searchology 2009 that raised the bar for search engine offerings.

So, hanging out with friends the evening after Searchology, I thought I’d launch a rousing conversation about the cutting edge of information retrieval technology by showing them the latest evolution of search. (You know you’d want me at your party.) Instead, all I got was, “Google changed their interface? Cool.”

Call me devastated. [It takes a few years to train them up right. Don’t get discouraged. –Susan]

No one I know outside of the search marketing industry seems more than mildly interested in the new features. Giddy about the Wonder Wheel, filtering by time, and results that show images right on the SERP, search geeks are apparently alone in their enthusiasm.

So I have to wonder, if a new feature is rolled out by Google and no one ever uses it, is it actually useful?

I tried to locate stats on how much use Google’s niche and vertical search products get. I could only find this HitWise report from 2006. (If anyone can point to more recent data, I’d love to find it.)

rankings of top 20 Google domains

In 2006, image search lead the way, receiving less than 10 percent of Google’s traffic. The following year Google launched Universal Search. A big part of the decision to launch Universal may be that average users didn’t even know what was available to them via search verticals. Google had to shove it in their face before anyone noticed.

In that case, have Google and the other engines invested too much in search verticals that get little use and even less visibility? Will an engine like Wolfram Alpha awaken users to the possibilities of alternate data gathering services? Or, are users likely to continue missing out because they’re content with the pragmatic search service they’re accustomed to?

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3 responses to “Niche Search, New Search Features and Who Out There Cares – SEM Synergy Extras”

  1. Michael Angrave writes:

    This is the first I’ve heard of Wolfram Alpha. Seems very interesting. However, I don’t think anyone will be rocking the mighty Google boat for a long time to come.

    Keep up the work!

  2. Anon writes:

    I think your point is fairly valid, but also that you might be looking at the wrong set of data. You may want to compare Google’s market share for that particular product to the overall market share for the product (ie. Google mail vs Yahoo Mail vs Hotmail, etc.) and not as a percentage of Google’s traffic.
    I could say that I only use my alarm clock for 1 minute out of my day (which is much less than even .001%) yet it is a pretty important and useful part of my day.
    An even better point might simply be with Adwords, which only shows to receive .07% of the traffic. I don’t think you’ll find anyone at Google who will say Adwords is not useful :)

  3. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Thanks Rudy. That’s a good point. I get frustrated when people analyze data out of context, and yet I can be guilty at times, too. Still, I do think the engines’ niche services are underutilized when compared to services like email, Web search, etc., and that complacency and being unaware could be to blame.



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