Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Conduit Toolbar Deal: A Bing Victory, Or Strategic Move By Google?

Today I read RKG's [as usual] brilliant blog piece on the impact of Conduit switching from Google to Bing. In it, RKG's Mark Ballard shows that, in getting Conduit to switch, Bing has taken ~1% search marketshare from Google. He also showed that Conduit traffic converts at 2/3 the rate of Google.com traffic.

I don't recall this change, which happened during December 2010 & January 2011, being discussed by Google in its Q1 earnings call, despite the fact that it possibly contributed to their Q1 miss (the one that destroyed ~$12-13B in market cap). IMO, Google takes great pains to appear supremely strategic, and sell-side analysts, for their part, are easily fooled because they lack fundamental knowledge of the SEM space.

That said, the big question in my mind is: did Bing take Conduit away from Google, or did Google dump Conduit? AllThingsD's Kara Swisher wrote about this, but commenters to the article disagree on this point. If Bing outbid Google in a deal Google wanted to keep, then one could argue that Google was handed a big, strategic loss. If, on the other hand, Google was no longer willing to pay what they had been paying to Conduit, then Bing took the bait and forked over a lot more dough than they should have for the 1-1.5% search marketshare this gives them.

My opinion? Bing outbid Google, and will do the same on a number of other major search distribution deals to come, including Firefox later this year. Bing monetizes search traffic at roughly the same rate as Google, and MSFT's cash hoard will now be used to wreak havoc on Google's growth in what may, just may become a sustainable advantage to Bing's search business.

My brother once took advantage of Bing's cashback rewards to buy several 1oz gold krugerrands via a Bing merchant for 30% off. That was 5 years ago and it appears Microsoft is not done throwing serious, serious coin around to buy their way into search. Meanwhile, 190 people in San Mateo are about to get a lot richer.

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