That’s Just Not Cuil

Editor’s Note: (Super)mom Jordan McCollum just had a new baby girl and still managed to get us an entry for our Guest Blogging week. All I managed to do this morning was get coffee. Thanks, Jordan!–Susan

For all the press it generated, it’s not too surprising that Cuil didn’t live up to expectations. While Cuil boasted it was bigger, more relevant and more private than Google, most people quickly panned the limited index, the three-column search results layout and the technical glitches. But amid the mistakes of the launch, there were a few things they did right, too.

Working against Cuil:

Hype—When the Wall Street Journal trumpets your launch, it’s probably going to be difficult to keep up with not only the expectations you’re setting, but also the traffic you get. Remember, nothing kills an inferior product faster than superior PR.

Selling points—You’re certainly not going to impress people in the industry touting your index size and relevance (especially not if you don’t live up to the claims). While both of these metrics sound good to the average user, they’re usually not enough to make them consider a permanent switch of their default search engine (again, especially not if you don’t live up to the claims).

Brand recognition—This is a big one. If nobody can spell or pronounce your name, it will be exceedingly difficult for them to get to your site. My husband works for a company with an unusually-spelled name like Cuil—it’s pronounced like a “real” word, but it’s not spelled like its homophone. I can only imagine how much type-in traffic (not to mention email) is lost because people can’t spell the name. Yes, all the good domains are taken, but . . . come on. That word is “quill.”

Brand recognition again—This is such a big one that it deserves mentioning again. Remember that study last year, the one that said that people don’t really “see” relevance? What made them say results were relevant was the brand on the top of the page—the exact same results were magically more relevant with a Google or Yahoo logo.

Actual traffic—Despite the fact that traffic overloaded Cuil’s servers, during its first day of life, the search engine only barely cracked the top 10 search engines as measured by Hitwise. Tuesday, it slipped to #12. Worse yet, more than a third of its first-day traffic was from other search engines (and more than a quarter came from news and media sites). Breaking the top 20 during your first week is good, of course, but you might expect coverage by the WSJ would generate more than 0.6% of search engine traffic.

Working for Cuil:

Attention—If you can get the WSJ to cover the launch, your PR department (or is that just PR person?) should get a pizza party. Or at least a pizza.

Focus on Google’s weak point—privacy—While a lot of search engines do have excellent privacy features, privacy was probably the strongest of the three features that Cuil touted the most. It was possibly the best selling point they were going to have. With fervor over Google’s perceived invasions of privacy renewed every few weeks, for the most part the only thing that has kept many of the privacy-emphasizing search engines back is lack of publicity—something Cuil had in spades.

The moral of the story: never, ever describe yourself (or allow yourself to be described, if you can help it) as a “Google killer.” We’ve been disappointed too many times by that hype. It’s a kiss of death.

Instead (and this lesson isn’t just for search engine startups), focus on things that are truly unique and worthwhile to your users—and deliver.

Jordan McCollum is the assistant editor of Marketing Pilgrim, an Internet marketing news site. She has worked in search engine optimization, content creation, web analytics, and, of course, blogging.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

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One Reply to “That’s Just Not Cuil”

Google grew without they hype–it was a great search engine that users wanted to tell their friends about.

Cuil on the other hand, went with the big hype that it couldn’t live up to.

It looks like Cuil will be the “Cuil-killer” ;-)


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