It’s hard to even imagine the internet without the aid of search engines. Whether you’re looking for a piece of trivia or you’re looking for a new website, search engines are the main way we navigate the virtual world. And within this world of search, one name stands far and above all the others—Google.
So popular is the Google monolith that it is practically synonymous with search itself. After all, what other search engines have warranted the creation of a verb? After enough time, users became so accustomed to “googling” something that Merriam-Webster responded with the addition of google, a verb meaning the use of the engine to acquire information.
But what exactly made Google such a commanding force in search engines? Official representatives of the company explained that it was Google’s speed that set it apart from its competition. Recognizing that Google itself was merely a middleman used to get people from point A to point B, Google devoted its time and energy into yielding the fastest search results and offering those results in an easy-to-use interface that got people to other sites and on their way.
Whether this was the root of their success or not, recent studies indicate that people are certainly loyal to the Google brand. In these studies, search results were switched between search engines (Yahoo’s results were presented as Google’s and vice versa), and people still seemed to gravitate towards Google. This was contingent, however, on the premise that there was no real, qualitative difference between the quality of search results.
So what concrete lessons can other up-and-coming search engines glean from Google’s success story? Most notably, engines should avoid devoting all time and energy into the technical aspect and treat themselves like other companies in need of an effective advertising campaign. Over the years, Google has certainly established a recognizable and positive brand, while other search engines such as Yahoo! and Microsoft have yet to recreate this kind of positive brand recognition.
But there is an element of the chicken and egg debate to Google’s success. Do they elicit brand loyalty by virtue of Google’s branding efforts, or do they hold their customers’ collective interest because of the continued quality of their service?
The latter seems to make the most sense to me. Sure, people are loyal to Google—even to the point where they label Google’s false search results as “better”—but their loyalty is not guaranteed. If Google’s search results started to falter and consistently saw a decrease in quality, those users would eventually abandon Google and place their loyalty with the latest and greatest engine.
Success, therefore, is a fairly intuitive (though difficult to implement) formula. Create a fast, user-friendly, and high quality business model followed by effective marketing. Continue to deliver on that promise of quality, and you’re on your way to establishing loyal customers.