google killer

By my own admission, I’ve become a complete hack, for using the term [blank]-killer.  A lot of people are asking whether News Corp would really block its content from Google’s index, and make a deal with Microsoft for exclusive search access.  And if they did, and others followed, would this represent a serious threat to Google?

The tech-über-alles crowd would have you believe that “de-indexing” from Google would be suicide for any publisher.  The assertion there is that Google drives the majority of web traffic, so if you’re not findable through Google, you might as well not be on the Internet.

But that assertion flies in the face of another observation from the technoscenti – social media like Facebook and Twitter are becoming increasingly important as traffic drivers (though this importance may be overhyped).  We may be heading towards a future where the links are shared through social media are more valuable than search links.

More importantly, and against the prevailing wisdom in some circles, content still matters.  People use media services because of the content on it.  Other factors are important too:  the features must be complete, the UI has to be easy, the price has to be right, yadda yadda yadda.  But would any of those other factors make up for terrible content?  No, content is, if no longer king, still the jewel in the crown.

If Bing is able to be the exclusive search partner for the right content, Google is dead.  Of course, what’s “right” can vary quite a lot from person to person.  For me, it’s as simple as two publications:  If the New York Times and Wikipedia are de-indexed from Google, I’m going to stop using Google in favor of the search engine that has those two.  I might think it’s unfair, I might think it’s a triumph of soulless MBAs over tech heroes, I might think it’s the desperate grasping of dying empires.  But I want the content I want, and those principles aren’t enough to prevent me from switching.

Bing doesn’t have to make deals with every content provider, just a dozen or so critical ones that will cause another 40% market share gain (they’re at 10% now).  Sure it’ll be expensive to acquire the best content, but Microsoft’s got more cash than Google.  Once it’s 50/50, it’s anybody’s ballgame but the advantage goes to the one who has the content.

I’m pretty sure that Google is not going to sit back and smugly assume that Murdoch’s gambit will fail.  They’re going to get involved, they’re going to try to start locking down their own partnerships.  If I were them, I’d start with Wikipedia, one of the most important search result destinations on the web – it’s in the top five results of just about any search you do.  Sure, they’re a non-profit, but non-profits need money too.

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