Microhoo: Can Microsoft Get Into The Search Race?

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Two weeks have gone by since Microsoft announced their bid to buy Yahoo, which Yahoo rejected (even though we all have a pretty good idea that it’s going to happen eventually). I was catching up on the Daily Searchcast episodes this past week, and Danny Sullivan gave a great analogy that really made me laugh, yet is so true. To paraphrase, he said,

“5 years ago, Google screamed past Microsoft and Yahoo. Yahoo said, “Oh my God, look – they’ve gone right past us!” So they looked around at whoever had the fastest car, threw a lot of money at them, then jumped in and went after Google. And Microsoft said, “Oh, I guess there’s a race going on!” Then they sat down and started building a car from scratch to catch them, saying, “We’re gonna build our car!” And by the time they got into the race, they just couldn’t get there. So, now they are saying, “Hey Yahoo – can we just take the driver’s seat and use your car instead?”

As someone who’s been doing search marketing for almost 6 years, I’ve been around to see all these things happen – and Danny’s description is funny because it’s so accurate. Yahoo, seeing their huge Internet portal brand getting passed up by Google in the blink of an eye, went out and bought Overture. Problem was, Overture’s PPC interface was outdated and clunky. It reminded me of the movie Cars – it was like a 1950s has-been race car trying to go out and catch Lightning McQueen without so much as a tune-up.

And Microsoft – oh my. We were part of the adCenter beta back in 2004, and I said at that time that, instead of taking the best features from Adwords and Overture/Yahoo and building on them, they decided to start from scratch, complete with the bloated code and other annoyances that are typical of MS applications. After using Adwords for 2 years, trying to decipher adCenter was like going from driving a brand-new Porsche to driving a ’99 minivan . (Go ahead, ask me how I came up with that analogy!) AdCenter was, and still is, painful to use – and frequently not worth the effort given the small amount of traffic it generates.

The big question is, will buying Yahoo get Microsoft into the search race? I still say no. Panama is a huge improvement over the old Overture technology, and Yahoo does have a decent-enough market share. But my fear is that MS will go in with their monolithic infrastructure and ruin Yahoo in the process. The only way this will be at all a good thing is if MS combines their tiny market share with Yahoo’s and lets us use the Panama interface to push our campaigns to both audiences. Otherwise, I believe Google will keep on pulling further ahead of the pack, leaving both MS and Y in the dust.

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