The Google Story, by David Vise, is a must read for any budding Search Engine entrepreneur. Vise tells the story of Sergey Brin and Larry Page and their quantum leap technology and dynamic vision that first transformed the world of Internet Search, then the world of Search Ad Marketing.
In reading The Google Story, I was impressed with how closely Zillow follows in Google's footsteps, taking many pages directly from the Google Playbook. Imitation must be the highest form of flattery for Search Engines too. Zillow's Playbook bears many similarities to Google's. Picasso said, "Good artists copy. Great artists steal." This also holds true for Google's business model and Website.
In evaluating the business plan for our Web site, a reviewer for a local Venture Capital firm commented, "Google proved the model (keyword relevant ad sale model) for general search, but can this model work for anything else? She was most intrigued with Zillow, and wondered how successful it was. I've tracked Zillow closely ever since. Come on Zillow.
Google has been successful in its core area of keyword relevant search. But this success has not carried over into other areas where Google hoped to have a decisive impact. In fact, Google is being handily beaten in 3 areas it hoped to dominate: Blog Search, by Technorati; Internet Video, by YouTube; and Social Networking, by MySpace. News Corporation bought MySpace, while Google sat on all its hands, its algorithm and its cash.
It doesn't seem that the Google Algorithm generating Page Rank translates well to Vertical Search, where much of relevance is already dictated. In blog search, for example, the recency of a post is of a much greater importance than in keyword search. Dare Google tamper with their algorithm? Why does Zillow.com, with 2.3 million visitors last month, have a Page Rank of 5; while ZillowBlog.com has a Page Rank of 6? Might the recency of the blog posts trump the high traffic and the same-o same-o of the parent Web site? Might little Technorati, with its increased importance of recency, be driving Google, just as Google's algorithm drove those elder statesmen, Yahoo and Microsoft (think Technorati Tags)? Who's playing catch-up now?
What about Home Search? Yahoo used to use Google Search, but Yahoo felt it had to develop its own search engine when Google was became too much of a portal, in direct competition with Yahoo. Now Yahoo uses Zillow to provide much of its home search data.
Microsoft's Playbook has been not to get in on the leading (or bleeding) edge, where start up costs were great for a huge corporation; but to let the small early leaders fight it out, then buy the best. Microsoft thus missed the boat on Internet portals (AOL and Yahoo), and on Search, where it too is playing catch-up. Now Google seems to be making similiar mistakes with Vertical Search.
Search 1.0 was Alta Vista, Excite, Inktomi, etc. They featured random search with little concern for the relevance of their findings. Google heralded Search 2.0 with an algorithm determining relevance, and with ads selected for their relevance. Enter Yahoo, MSN and Ask from stage left. Search 3.0 (as predicted by John Battelle in The Search) will feature the powerful Vertical Search Engines: YouTube, Technorati, MySpace and Zillow in the Home Space. Search 4.0, will come when the big Horizontal Search Engines integrate the Vertical Search Engines.
- Google has the best keyword search. Zillow has the best home value search.
- Google has the best algorithm for keyword search. Zillow is developing the best algorithm for home valuation search.
- Google is #1 in the minds of searchers in general. Zillow will be #1 in the minds of home searchers.
- Google is where searchers go first for their information. Zillow will be where home searchers go first for their home valuation information.
- Google can link the searcher to the best information. Zillow can link the home searcher to the best information.
- Google provides excellent general search results, instantly and for free. Zillow provides excellent home valuation results, instantly and for free.
- Google makes money by selling relevant ads around its results. Zillow makes money by selling relevant ads around it home valuations.
- Google is service first, ads second. Zillow is service first, ads second.
- Google drove traffic first. Zillow is driving traffic first.
- Google invests in technology and doesn't advertise. Zillow invests in technology and doesn't advertise.
- Google's popularity has spread by word of mouth, buzz and devoted users. Zillow's popularity has spread by word of mouth, buzz and interested users.
- Google has a clear and simple home page, without ads. Zillow has a clear and simple home page, without ads.
- Google has lots of free and useful stuff (G-mail, Google Maps, Google Toolbar, Froogle, Blogger, Google Analytics, etc), to keep bringing you back(drive traffic). Zillow has lots of free stuff (Open API, links, sponsors Carnival of Real Estate), to keep you coming back(drive traffic).
- Google has open API's (like Google Maps) you can use on your Website fo free to develop applications and drive traffic. Zillow has an open API of its service you can use on your Website for free and develop your own application and drive traffic.
- Google is looking to solve the problems of local search, vertical search and personalized search. Zillow is the answer to local search, vertical search and personalized search.