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Limitations of .Brand Search Engines

Alex Tajirian

The essay outlines the necessary success factors for a niche search engine and raises doubt regarding the role of .Branding in niche engines' success.

Some search engines want to target a niche market, not Google. Unlike Google, they're targeted and they are profitable that way. Consider Kayak (travel), Zillow (real estate), Yelp (reviews), and .xxx (adult websites).

Based on the success of these niche engines, some TLDs pundits have argued for the viability of search engines for companies that have registered their .Brands. Imagine a Search.Nike or Search.Apple.

Established all-encompassing online search engines, such as Google, have a number of advantages beyond large diversity in offerings. For one very important thing, they can invest in artificial intelligence algorithms for optimal pricing and user analysis. But niche engines can provide their own kind of value, and at a profit, by following other business models.

A search engine, any search engine, succeeds when it creates value outside its core service as a search device, and when it acts as an intermediary that offers what searchers know is every conceivably useful site on the Internet (as with Google) or every conceivably useful site in a particular niche.

Of course, niche players have to keep an eye out for when the big boys use muscle. After Google tried and failed to buy Yelp in 2009, the niche engine noticed a drop in its rankings. It spoke up, resulting in regulatory inquiries and user backlash that ultimately convinced Google to scale back its demotion of Yelp rankings. Nevertheless, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh argued in a 2012 paper that the First Amendment prohibits regulatory interference with Google's ranking decisions. Moreover, a 2012 paper by Robert Bork, a Supreme Court nominee, and Gregory Sidak, professor of law and economics at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, questions that anyone is really harmed when Google gives its own services top placement. (Both papers were commissioned by you know who!)

Success of a niche search engine does not depend on the need for a .Brand strategy, but rather on the engine's business model, its ability to have a comprehensive listing within its particular market, and its ability to fend off the big guns and not just immediate competitors. Of course, these search engines can rebrand under .Kayak, .Yelp, etc., for possibly other reasons, but that does not change the conditions for their search engine success.

By Alex Tajirian, CEO at DomainMart
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