Age of Google: Branding an alternative Search Engine

In a book titled ‘101 Best Dotcoms’ published in 2000, I found an interesting line from the author which went like this: ‘Amongst your favorite search engines like Yahoo, MSN, Askjeeves…‘.Google was simply missing, although it was launched more than two years prior to this. This line, in no way decreases the credibility of the author. Rather, it simply glorifies the path that Google has taken to success. At that time, the very reason Google emerged numero uno in web search technology was because most of its competitors had search alongside their other offerings. Google had only one text box on its homepage. So, while Yahoo was remembered for so many things, Google was remembered for only one thing:Search. Now, they have been trying to grow much beyond that; as proved by the numerous products Google labs has been rolling out, as well as, the suit Google filed to prevent their company name to be used as a synonym for web search.

So, if Google was this primary source for extracting information from the web, why are the other newer search engines even emerging? Yesterday, I had blogged about one niche of Search: searching Images. There are in fact, several other niches that search engines can operate. In this article, I am merely trying to suggest ways in which these newer search engines can also gain popularity.

For the cause, I shall take up the example of Guruji.Com . This is a website dedicated to searches on Indian websites alone. Websites like Technorati operate on a niche that is not addressed by Google or Yahoo. So, they manage a dedicated user base of their own. But, for a search engine like Guruji, whose needs are already taken care by Google to a great extent, the task become much more difficult. So, here are a few points to address this situation.

Purpose of use:

The question we should first ask is why use Guruji? Google and Yahoo are much more convenient. At present, you do not even have to visit their website for a search since a search can be performed right on the toolbars in the browser window. This is regarded the ‘comfort zone’, and if for any reason the user must move out of this ‘comfort zone’ and use Guruji, there has to be a reason,and that reason must be unique.

And the reply to this question is the niche; ‘Indian websites’, in this specific example. But the question still remains. Any Indian search can be performed on Google itself by suffixing a ‘+ India’ to the search query. From a user point of view, any search result pertaining to India will do. The user, at most instances is not looking for a website maintained by an Indian for an answer to his reply.

This brings us then to the question of how to leverage the value of Guruji to expand the user-base. There are no specific answers and every brand manager will have his own route to achieving this task.

Brand Value – Not Search Engine Value:

One primary mistake that could possibly happen is make a search engine just another website and market it like other websites. This was a mistake made by Sproose, an interactive search engine, which ranks web pages based on what ranking users give to the search results. The concept is good, but the advertising format was bad. Sproose took services from PayPerPost to put a word about their search engine on the pages of their blogger network.

The mistake here can be discussed in two ways. 1) Numerous bloggers being paid to ‘write’ about their search engine will help spread the news about their service. But, Search Engine technology is not a new concept. So, while users may know and remember that such a site exists, it will not help in getting them out of their comfort zone to make a search on Sproose the next time they need info. The point is that users do know that Yahoo, MSN, Ask, etc all exist. But for search, they use Google.So, adding a new search engine to their knowledge does not, in any way, help the user base grow. 2) An attempt to gain inbound links is futile. One necessity to advertise is to get inbound links to the website, which in turn helps the website rank better in a search result. But the chances of a person searching for a search engine are way too minimal.

To make people use your search engine, it is necessary to give them an opportunity to use your web service, outside the website itself. This means that Guruji should market the product in such a way that the users get a feel of the Search engine from other regular websites they use. Here are some possible suggestions:

Study the search requirements of popular Indian blogs and websites, and offer intrasite searching functionality. Now,this is a tricky situation, since most web masters make use of the Google search box. It is here that an optimal bidding comes into place. Now, let me take two popular Indian blogs for an example; India Uncut and Digital Inspiration. The former is a gossip blog while the latter is a technology blog. While both enjoy popular readership, the technology blog will experience higher number of search queries than the gossip blog, as a reader would often visit a technology blog to search for an answer to his problem. This means that after studying the traffic, we need to estimate a good amount that the blog would potentially make from searches (which will be higher for the technology blog than the gossip blog), and with this as a base, bid an amount to the blogger to place your search box instead of the Google Search box.

There is another possible way to perform the same thing. Renting space on blogs. This is equivalent to placing banners or other forms of ads in most cases. But, for a search engine, that does not suffice. A website like Guruji that requires users to feel and experience the service could negoatiate to place a search box in the rented space. Though some web masters may not agree to the idea, a bid higher than that offered for merely renting space could help.

Now, one of the above techniques could help the search engine in getting the users to search the web using their service, and persisted use of the techniques could fetch loyal visitors.

Roadblocks:

As in any other technique, these techniques too have their own roadblocks. The primary one being achieving targetted search results. This is possible only with indexing a huge list of web pages. For one, a website like Guruji indexes only Indian web pages, and two, it requires users to submit site, which is a pretty long route to achieving a huge index. It worked for Google, but it need not work for newer search engines. The alternative way forward could be to use the index of other established search engines, and applying the unique search algorithm of your search engine. For example, this could be one simplistic option: Since a search engine like Guruji basically needs Indian content, a search query may merely search the keyword from all major search engines, filter the Indian content of them, and then produce result. This is a very simplistic solution, but merely a suggestion at increasing the number of indexed files, which is the only way to increase keyword relevant search results.