How Search Engines Implode; The Portal Trap

Search Engine Portal TrapBlame it on Wall Street. Blame it on evolution. Popularity. Blame it on whatever you want. Sooner or later every search engine stops being a search engine and becomes a portal. And then it dies.

Remember when Yahoo was THE search engine on the internet? No longer. Remember Infoseek? Gone. Could the same thing happen to Google? Sure.

Search Engine Supernova

Here’s how search engines implode:

Step 1: Be a great search engine. Get popular. Make lots of money.

Step 2: Give more to the world. Develop all sorts of great new features. Cut deals with the biggest players out there to provide news, weather, sports, politics, finance, on and on and on.

Step 3: Take step 2 and put it all on your homepage.

Search Engines Vs Portals

Check this Alexa snapshot:

Search Engine Stats

Question: Now we all know that Alexa data is not perfect but how could all three of these major search engines have similar traffic levels, and yet Google can drive 10 times the amount of traffic to your website as the other two?

Answer: Yahoo and MSN are portals first and search engines second. Their homepages are full of links that help drive traffic to themselves and to the people they have deals with. Not to the rest of the web.

Go to Google. What do you see? A search engine. With one purpose; to help you find me or whatever it is you need to find on the whole entire web. But Google is growing and when Matt Cutts talks about the next generation of search, part of me thinks “cool”. And part of me thinks “Supernova”.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s for love or money. The need and the want to continue to develop cool new stuff for your users is so overwhelmingly powerful that every great SE eventually becomes a portal. And then people move on to go find a search engine.

In the Alexa graph, you can see the rise of Live. When you do a search on MSN, Microsoft takes you to Live. Hey, it’s a search engine! Sort of. Live gives you the ability to customize your own home page. They offer you a bunch of THEIR stuff, and they let you put on feeds and stuff from elsewhere on the net. Yahoo and Google both do this too. But Yahoo starts as a portal as soon as you get there. The search bar has become increasingly obscured and their stuff is more in the forefront.

The Portal Trap

When a search engine starts becoming a portal they make a lot of money and they retain traffic. When people just want an SE, they leave. The portal starts making less money and they scramble to put more and more crap on the homepage and highlight it over the search bar. Which is why people are leaving in the first place. It becomes a downward spiral.

This happens because all the little guys who want traffic will talk about whoever sends them traffic and get the buzz going grass roots style.

Search engines have to make it easier for people to find the rest of the web, not just a few select players. Will the “build your own portal” model be better than the “ready-made portal” one?

Probably. But other temptations lie in the road.

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