Major Google Customer Defects

DFN: Major Google customer swinging its business to Bing (Microsoft). Loyalty to a single search engine could fracture the internet? I think the internet is too bing for this to happen!

Rupert Murdoch Is Quitting Google, Leaving Readers With Only Millions Of Other Web Sites To Choose From
11/24/2009 by Weston Kosova
http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/techtonicshifts/archive/2009/11/24/rupert-murdoch-is-quitting-google-leaving-readers-with-only-millions-of-other-web-sites-to-choose-from.aspx

So Rupert Murdoch, who has suffered for so long at the hands of Google—what with all the traffic Google directs to his NewsCorp Web sites for free—has finally had enough. He’s threatening to pull out of Google altogether and throw all of his business to Bing, Microsoft’s rival search engine.

There’s nothing wrong with Bing. It works just fine. And if Microsoft agrees to pay Murdoch for exclusive rights to list his content, all the better for Murdoch. It just drives him crazy that Google won’t give him money for the privilege of providing him a valuable service. So off you go, Mr. Murdoch. It was nice knowing you.

Now all Murdoch and Microsoft have to do is convince us to start using two search engines every time we go to the Web to look for news. First Google, which most of us already use; and then, oh yeah, I should now go to Bing in the hopes that one of Murdoch’s properties also has something to say on that subject.

Good luck with that, fellas.

The deal may sound great to Murdoch and Microsoft, but neither seems to have given a moment’s thought to what’s best for their customers. Instead of making it easier for people to find what they’re looking for, they’re making it harder.

It’s kind of like this: I like breakfast cereal. I routinely buy Cocoa Puffs and Cap’n Crunch. But you know what I really like? I like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. They’re delicious, don’t you think? So simple and pure. Whenever I go to the Giant Food store where I buy my groceries and other cereals, I make sure to buy a box of Corn Flakes. Try them with strawberries. So good.

But let’s say Safeway Food stores offers Kellogg’s an exclusive deal to sell Corn Flakes. The cereal will be removed from the shelves at Giant. Now in order to get them I either have to switch to the Safeway across town for my general shopping, or continue to shop at Giant but make a special trip just to buy Corn Flakes.

Which of those things am I going to do?

Neither.

Here’s why: When I go to the grocery store and see that the Corn Flakes are missing, I’ll be disappointed. But hey, look, that spot on the shelf where the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes used to be isn’t empty—something else has taken its place: AnotherCompany brand corn flakes. The box looks different, but they are corn flakes, and they’re less expensive. Turns out they’ve been selling them for years, but I never noticed before. What the heck, I’ll try a box. Beats making a special trip across town to Safeway.

And here’s what I’ll discover: AnotherCompany brand corn flakes are pretty much the same as Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Maybe the flakes themselves are shaped a little differently, and they taste just a little different, but after a few bowls I really can’t remember what that difference is. And these new corn flakes taste great with strawberries too!

The next time I’m at Giant, I buy another box of the new corn flakes. I am happy, and go on with my day. If I’m at a hotel and they serve Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, I have a bowl. Yep, they’re good, but not good enough to rearrange my life for.

See where we’re going with this? News on the Web is beyond plentiful, and most of it is similar. Make it less convenient for me to find your Web site, and I’ll switch to one of the many, many others that are just waiting for the opportunity to win my loyalty. It might not be exactly the same as yours, but after a short adjustment period I’m going to be just as happy. The sad truth is, you’re really not that special.

That would seem like a pretty basic lesson in economics that any executive—especially one as astute as Murdoch—would instinctively get. But he doesn’t. And neither do many of his cohorts.

Today, Bloomerg.com’s Greg Bensinger and Brian Womack report that other media companies, including A.H. Belo Corp., which publishes the Dallas Morning News, and MediaNews Group, which publishes the Denver Post, are considering following Murdoch to Bing and removing some of their stories from Google as part of their suicidal plan to start charging readers for news that can be found a million different places for free.

MediaGroup’s CEO Dean Singleton explains the logic of this decision:

“The things that go behind pay walls, we will not let Google search to, but the things that are outside the pay wall we probably will, because we want the traffic.”

Let’s unpack that amazing quote. Singleton recognizes that Google drives valuable traffic to his sites. So he’s going to let Google users see some of his papers’ stories. But not the good stuff. To see that, you have to pay. But potential newcomers to the sites won’t even know that there is supposedly really good stuff locked up inside, because all of those stories will be invisible to Google users.

In other words, Singleton wants to make it so that newcomers who come by way of Google will be greeted at the door with the least desirable content—the kind of stories lots of other sites have. Many of those readers will leave and have no reason to come back. Meanwhile, the most desirable content—the stories he believes set his sites apart from their many competitors—will be hidden away, invisible to the very people who came looking for them. That’s a bold business plan, to put it mildly.

Yes, some readers will pay up. But not most. And yes, some Google users will switch to Bing to get The Wall Street Journal and Fox News. But not most. Most readers will simply forget that The Wall Street Journal and Fox News exist online—or they’ll remember but their needs will be met with all the other sites that pop up in their Google search. And since Bing only captures 10 percent of the search market, that means Murdoch is going to be giving up a lot of readers. (How much will Microsoft have to pay him, year after year after year, to make it worth his while?)

Media companies are obviously desperate and willing to try all sorts of crazy things. That’s not necessarily bad. But it makes no sense when those things mean a worse experience for their readers. No matter how the search wars eventually shake out, the winners are surely going to be the companies that make it easy for their customers to get what they want.

Several bloggers have argued that by signing exclusive deals with Murdoch and others, Bing might just succeed in stealing a lot of customers from Google. Maybe that will happen. I doubt it. But it’s also beside the point. Even if these deals wind up helping Microsoft and hurting Google, that doesn’t mean they’ll help the likes of Murdoch or Singleton—since these agreements will make life more difficult for their customers and drive them away from their sites.

If the Web gets divvied up, with some sites pledging loyalty to this search engine and others to that one, we’ll likely see a slew of search engine aggregators that unite the disparate results on one page. Why? because people don’t want to have to wander all over creation to find what they’re looking for, and they’ll reward companies that make it so they don’t have to.

Don’t alienate your customers. This is not a difficult concept. Yet Singleton and Murdoch and a growing number of their peers seem to think that the best way to attract customers in a vibrant, highly competitive market is to make their products difficult, frustrating, and expensive.

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