The demise of Google

Niche search services could herald hard times ahead for the Web's own 800-pound Gorillla Nothing lasts forever. And while Google is riding high on the crest of a wave, there is an almost imperceptible undercurrent that could spell trouble for the search giant's future. First things first: Google makes its money delivering targeted advertising to the millions of people around the world who use its search engine.

Niche search services could herald hard times ahead for the Web's own 800-pound Gorillla

google Web 2.0
Nothing lasts forever. And while Google is riding high on the crest of a wave, there is an almost imperceptible undercurrent that could spell trouble for the search giant's future.

First things first: Google makes its money delivering targeted advertising to the millions of people around the world who use its search engine.

If you own a swimming-pool supply company, you'd best buy Google keywords that cover this territory so that swimming-pool shoppers will come to your site.

On this, Google has built an empire.

Yes, there are other avenues Google is pursuing -- most notably Web 2.0 applications and, more recently, telecom. But to date, grant me that these remain unproven as major revenue streams for Google.

So what is this "imperceptible undercurrent" tickling that part of my brain that thinks about business?

Niche, vertical, boutique -- call them what you will -- search engines. These search service providers are looking at various search technologies to optimize specialized searches.

Take ZoomInfo, for example, which uses semantic search to offer search results limited strictly to business information. I don't intend to get into the guts of how a semantic search engine actually works, but suffice it to say, by using NLU (Natural Language Understanding), which can make sense of unstructured data, semantic search is better equipped to narrow down search results to a far more manageable number than Google does.

There are numerous examples of vertical search engines, such as WebMD, Travelocity, Orbitz, Petfinder, Kayak, Monster, and CareerBuilder.

Let's say you want to find a company that sells Web analytics software. Try searching on Google and then ZoomInfo, and see which provides the most relevant results.

Doing so, I got 66.8 million hits on Google.

As a registered user, I got 234 hits on ZoomInfo. But here is a sample of the first three hits from each:

Google:

Omniture Web Analytics

www.omniture.com See sample real-time reports that make your website decisions better. Web Analytics

www.WebTrends.com Want Actionable Web Analytics? Call WebTrends at 877.932.8736

Web analytics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Web analytics is the study of the behaviour of website visitors. In a commercial context, web analytics especially refers to the use of data collected from ...

ZoomInfo:

www.websidestory.com

San Diego, CA

Revenue: $64.5 Million

Employees: 214

WebSideStory is a leading provider of on-demand Web analytics services. WebSideStory's services collect data from Web browsers, process that data and deliver reports of online behavior to its customers on demand. More than 700 enterprise customers worldwide use WebSideStory's services to... more ... Omniture Inc (NASDAQ: OMTR)

www.omniture.com

Orem, UT

Revenue: $42.8 Million

Employees: 342

Omniture, Inc. is a leading provider of online business optimization software, enabling customers to manage and enhance online, offline and multi-channel business initiatives. Omniture's software, which it hosts and delivers to its customers as an on-demand subscription service, enables... more

Coremetrics, Inc.

www.coremetrics.com

San Mateo, CA

Revenue: $16.9 Million

Employees: 215

Coremetrics is the leading provider of digital marketing optimization solutions. Its solutions generate high return on online marketing investment and continue to pay daily dividends in improved marketing performance. Over 1,100 online business sites, transacting over $15 billion this... more

Which service offers the more relevant information in a useful format? You be the judge.

But before you scoff at the idea of Google becoming irrelevant, let me tell you about an industry I used to work in and one that I know well: magazine publishing.

In the '50s and for the better part of the '60s, the major publications were general-interest magazines such as "Life" and "Look." Their reasons for failing were complex, but two key factors played significant roles.

First, their reader bases grew so large that they could no longer support the millions of subscribers with a reasonable ad rate. At some point, advertisers decided they could reach the same audience, or an even larger segment of that audience, at the same ad rate on television.

Will Google have to trim back its search capabilities as it scales out and the company's rising infrastructure costs start to compete with what it can reasonably charge for a keyword?

The second factor that led to the demise of these magazines was niche publishing. "Life" was meant to serve a cross-section of the population, but alternatives aimed at target audiences started popping up -- "Ski Magazine" for skiers, motorcycle magazines, surfboarding magazines, and so on.

Honestly, I don’t know which came first: niche publishing or the advertisers that wanted to be part of it. Of course, there were always niche magazines. Suddenly, however, advertisers understood their value. When that happened, niche publishing took off.

Back then, Bill Ziff was the first master of this, with a stable of magazines aimed at a variety of subjects, including everything from golfing to skiing to flying. Later, he took the model to high tech. Of course, for the benefit of my own career, I'd best add that IDG's Pat McGovern is the reigning grand master in the high-tech genre.

I worked for a number of smaller New York publishers who turned the idea of niche publishing into an art form. First, they would do what the industry called a "one shot." If the one-time-only magazine earned respectable newsstand sales, the publisher would make it a quarterly, then a bi-monthly. If the ads took off, voilà, it was a monthly publication.

Look at "PC Magazine." It had so much advertising that it went semi-monthly at one point just to accommodate all those who wanted in.

Should you sell Google short? Probably not. But also keep in mind, nothing lasts forever.

Or as Frank Sinatra sang it, "That's life, that's what all the people say. You're ridin' high in April, shot down in May."