The news this week that Google and AOL have ‘renewed their vows’ was a shocker to many, particularly because just last week the NY Times was reporting that MSN had basically locked up an AOL deal.
As a search engine marketer, my reaction is mixed. In general, I want as much diversity of search publishers as possible. So, I was rooting for MSN to get the AOL deal, thereby stripping Google of some of its omnipotence and hubris (amazing that I would ever root for Microsoft as the underdog!).
For the last two years, Microsoft has been beating its chest proclaiming major investments in search – from Longhorn to the MSN Search beta launch (and the hiring of hundreds of employees for the task). With their $44 billion war chest (or whatever it is currently at) it seemed liked a relationship with AOL would be a slam dunk – it would be their ‘coming out party’, an indication that they were really going after Google and Yahoo.
The consequences for Google would be significant. AOL represents a big portion of Google’s revenue and losing this partner could very quickly lead to the end of Wall Street’s love affair with GOOG. It would also add more fodder to both Yahoo and MSN as they attempt to grow their distribution networks at Google’s expense. In short, an MSN-AOL relationship would have had a lot of negative implications for Google, and even if MSN lost money on the actual deal, the return from increased advertisers and increased distribution would more than justify the contract.
To me, this was just a slam dunk for Microsoft, if for no other reason to take the bloom of Google.
So, is there any silver lining here? Well, as many folks have pointed out, a deal with AOL in the past has been the Internet equivalent to “jumping the shark.” Just ask Time-Warner about how their merger went. And some of the deal points that have been released suggested that Google is continuing to veer away from the very things that got them to where they are today, namely relevance, simplicity, and objectivity.
I’m not sure what made me cringe more – President Bush justifying secret spying on Americans or Google allowing graphical banner ads and search engine optimization ‘advice’ to AOL. Both of these acts (sorry for the politics injection) violate Google’s fundamental principle – “Do no evil.”
If you look into the future and see a Google with banner ads and AOL results at the top of search pages where they shouldn’t, Google begins to look more and more like Yahoo. Yahoo, early on, was concerned about relevancy and simplicity. By the turn of the century, however, Yahoo had shifted all its resources from algorithmic search to revenue-generating channels and products, like games, travel, mail, etc. A few guys in Palo Alto decided that Yahoo had spent so much time on stuff other than search, that the search results weren’t even relevant anymore. So they decided to start their own company – that company, of course, was Google.
Meanwhile, Yahoo just announced a change to their search advertising guidelines – reducing the text in ads from 160 characters to 70. In sum, Yahoo is now copying the simplicity that made Google’s advertising so successful.
So, as 2005 ends, Google is trying to be like Yahoo, Yahoo is imitating Google, and MSN apparently doesn’t know what it wants to be. 2006 is going to be a fun year!