Cuil.pngSeveral people wrote to me asking me to review Cuil, the hot new search engine that everyone is talking about. Except me. I've explained in the past that I am not expecting any new search engine to come along to dethrone Google. But people persisted, "This one is really different!" So I looked and I listened and I read, and I'm sorry folks, but I don't know what all the fuss is about.

Let's start with the name. It's Cuil (pronounced "cool"). I have to tell you that anytime you start with a name that people have to explain how to pronounce, you're already in trouble. Look, search marketing depends on people being able to remember and spell your name. Any company that breaks that ruil is unlikely to be the search tuil that wins the Google duil. Now, I might turn out to be the fuil here, but the name alone tells me that this will have to generate massive word-of-mouth to take off.

And what would that word of mouth be based on? Well, Danny Sullivan has a detailed look at Cuil if you are interested in knowing all about it, but here are the highlights:

  • New results format. It's new, it's interesting, it's the easiest thing to copy in the world. If it is a bad idea, it will doom Cuil. If it's a good idea, it will be quickly copied and won't help them a bit. I actually like the results screen, but it in no way makes me optimistic about a search engine's chances.
  • Better relevance. Uh, right. A completely untestable notion under the best of circumstances, but completely at odds with another Cuil feature—better privacy. I believe that the biggest breakthrough in relevance will come from personalized search, so how can you ignore personalization and claim your relevance will be improved? This one makes no sense to me.
  • Bigger index. This is the big story for the PR machine, but it doesn't make a bit of difference. No one cares how big the index is but it makes for something to scream about in the blogosphere. If people think bigger indexes are good, expect Google to match it with ease. Billions of dollars make it easy to do things like scale.

So, Cuil might be cool, but it won't be a contender for your attention as a search marketer anytime soon. Yes, they'll at some point open things up to advertising, but even if they are a success that dwarfs any startup since Microsoft got in the game, they won't grab even a 10% market share. Almost all search marketers ignore Ask.com, and many ignore Microsoft and even Yahoo! now. There's nothing here that marks Cuil as a winner, even if it turns out to be a better search engine, which is debatable.

So what should search marketers be looking at? The upstart that beats Google will not be playing Google's own game. It will be making search easier and even more ingrained in a larger experience. Perhaps it will be social networking. Or media viewing (Google bought YouTube for a reason). Or the operating system of your computer (are you listening, Microsoft?)

But whatever it is, I am convinced it won't be a frontal assault on the Google search engine by another search engine. Whatever gives Google a run for its money will be a bigger experience than search that includes personalized relevance.

A social network could "know" so much about you and your friends that it could make your searches more relevant, searches that can be launched from within your social network experience. The operating system of your computer could work the same way, as a hub for everything you know that makes your searches smarter. Perhaps a mobile phone might do the same thing for some people.

But don't sit around waiting for someone to out-do Google. Each of Google's competitors over the years has claimed that it had a better search engine than Google at one time or another. No one listened, because Google is perfectly good, thank you. The next real battle for Google will be fought on higher ground than just search. Perhaps someone will buy Cuil to mount that attack on Google, but don't expect the battle to be won by Cuil itself.


July 29, 2008





Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, Web personalization, and Web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include ClickZ Live, RKG Summit, Ticket Summit, Webdagene, the CiTE conference, and the Forrester Marketing Conference.

Mike also founded and writes for the Biznology newsletter and blog, is the co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.






Comments(12)

Mike,
This article is a real juil. I learn more from you than I ever learned in schuil.

Keep up the great work!

Thanks, Tim. I think if there are any more Cuil jokes, I will start to druil.

Their results are really bad. Try searching for "search engine cuil". I did this search yesterday, and there were no results found at all. I tried today, and now their are three results. None of the results mentioned Cuil. Also, in regards to usability they fail the visitor as well by showing non relevant thumbnail images next to the results. Look at the screen shot I took of the thumbnail for Searchengineguides result: http://uploads.screenshot-program.com/upl3306314165.png

Their results better be good because their layout violates several important layout tips we've learned in our Conversion Optimization testing.

The three column layout significantly reduces usability vs. Google's one column results; varying description blocks break the eyeflow; the 'next' arrows on the far left increase distance from the scroll bar and make usability difficult on a laptop; among other issues.

Unfortunately, they only have 8,044 results for 'Conversion Optimization' vs. Google's 295,000 (and Widerfunnel.com is not on the first page, putting their accuracy in doubt). They've clearly got some catching up to do.

Chris

Mike,

I'm with you. What's the fuss? Something is going to absolutely NEED to be completely different and darn near awe inspiring to change my habit of using Google. That's right ..... habit. Not only is Google a verb now but it's officially a habit that may require a 12 Step Program of its own to break.

This whole thing is not so Cuil. I think you have a better shot at replacing sliced bread than you do Google.

Frank

Everybody is in such a hurry to knock these guys down. Some of their better features like that ajax box with the related categories will improve an order of magnitude with search data to inform those relationships. Guided search of that sort is a best practice in other areas of the web and hasn't taken hold in search yet. Obviously, that would improve even further with personalization, but the move toward personalization in search is moving forward at about the same velocity as the erosion of our personal privacy. You think a Chinese dissident would decry the loss of "personalization" of their data?

Joe,

I'm not in a hurry to do anything--I'm kind of low energy lately. :-)

I like some of their UI features, but I don't think you'll take down Google with a frontal assault. I do think privacy concerns is what is holding back personalization, but I also think that personalized search is the next search breakthrough. But it will be a feature on the existing search engines--not the basis for a new attack on search engines.

Cuil probably has lots of good technology, but search marketers don't need to pay attention. Perhaps existing search engines do.

Cuil is definitely not Kool! It has the worse results of any search engine I have tested. The "magazine" format is horrible for locating results easily. Half the searches I tried returned no results at all... and most of the results I did get were not even relevant to the query!

I believe you can make a better search engine than google... but this is not it. Cuil doesn't even beat "ask jeeves"... which is dead!

What possessed these people to release such an inferior product with so much hype? Did they think the format might appeal to prepubescent teenagers maybe???? You would really have to be a "fuil" to fall for their hype!

In my humble opinion...

I went and checked it out it has a nice look the first page but as for the search results it will never beat Google. All my sites are on the first page of google for the keywords i use I searched for my sites there and couldn't find any of them. The three column or even two column is an ugly way to present search information. They should have used only one.

I just tried some basic searches on Culi. YIKES!

It's safe to say that I'll be staying far away from this
one and don't see how this would ever take off -
especially for people like me who "information
overload" easily. Their page layout makes me
freak out!

Hi,excellent post.
I totally agree with your first point, Cu... what?, no name, no brand. That's the worst mistake.

Not taking in count that the first day their servers went down, have you seen the images associated in the SERP'S, where are they coming from?

I'm sure they'll get better, but so far...

1. I don't like the layout. It goes against the way I naturally scan pages.

2. The pics are unnecessary and rarely relevant to the story.

3. It seems like when the server gets overloaded, it just says there aren't any results. When results are available, they don't even approach Google's relevancy.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Why Search Marketers Can Safely Ignore Cuil