Microsoft is backing down from claims that they will be more relevant than Google for U.S. searches within six months. Many tend to relate search engine relevance with search engine marketshare, but they aren’t the same thing. It entirely possible, that MSN can eclipse Google in relevancy, but even if they do, that will not automatically translate into increased search engine marketshare.
Microsoft dominates many things simply because they are great at marketing, bundling and developing strategic partnerships that crowd out competition. In the web market space, this worked once with Internet explorer over Netscape, but this tactic is unlikely to work in outperforming Google in the number of users. If MSN is ever going beat Google at Google’s game, they will have to do it through results.
Google got its popularity because of it returned more relevant search results than any of their competitors, driving many, including previous search champ AltaVista, into search oblivion.
But things are different today than they were several years ago when Google first came on the scene. Any progress that MSN can make over Google will still be viewed as minor at best. Any superior results returned by MSN over Google will still be in relation to Google’s own perceived exceptional results. MSN may be better, but can they be clearly better than Google?
So even if MSN can improve its relevance over Google, will they be able to translate that into an improvement on marketshare? Naturally improved results will attract more visitors, but in order to really make gains MSN will have to create some pretty significant buzz around those results.
But generating buzz just a means to an end. What MSN really needs to to develop customer loyalty more than just a temporary passing interest. Customer loyalty is something Google has oodles of, and is not something that Microsoft has ever really been known for (saturation and dominance, yes; loyalty, no.) And being a little bit better than Google simply won’t do that for Microsoft.