Making Search Sticky

Opinion: Yahoo isn't the first search engine to try to bribe visitors to be loyal. What would make a user loyal when all of the options are free?

In what Yahoo is carefully characterizing as mere research, the portal is asking some of its users whether they would be willing to perform all—or at least most—of their searches on Yahoo in exchange for discounted music downloads, frequent flier miles, video rental discounts and even charity donations.

One of the Webs first search engines, Yahoo has taken a distant number two position behind Google in search market share, while MSN is a distant third.

The marketing problem is substantial. First, all of the major search engines are completely free to users. Secondly—and this is possibly the most frustrating element for Yahoo—the search engine results are seen as equivalent, if not identical.

Whether the results from one engine or another are more accurate or more comprehensive is irrelevant, as most consumers and businesspeople perceive them to be identical. As the old saying goes, "If ten Boolean search parameters say youre sick, lie down."

Personally, until about a year ago, I was finding Googles results to be consistently and demonstrably superior to any other engine, including Yahoos. But as Google has focused its efforts in 100 different areas lately, Ive seen its results fall into line with Yahoo and others.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about search startups challenging Google.

Also, Google seems to be doing strange things adding and removing sources. Ill be researching a story and will run the identical search on Google at different times on the same day and will see a significantly different number of responses.

How different? A week ago, the same search yielded 208,000 one day and 102,000 results the next. A day later, an identical search returned 42,000 results.

Whats going on? Is Google deleting sources that frequently? I can understand the numbers increasing as new sources are made available, but why such a rapid decrease? Google seems to be forgetting as quickly as a White House staffer testifying to Congress.

Getting back to Yahoos dilemma, bribing users to search only on one engine is not going to be a sustainable long-term strategy.

Next Page: Yahoos proposal.