Sometimes you need a nemesis. I’ve been thinking about this as we’ve been building and growing Lijit over the past few years. We’ve not really had a direct competitor. In fact, the most often “competitive” force we come up against especially in the beginning was apathy. Online publishers (those people that author and manage websites) were generally apathetic towards tools and technology that weren’t either a) the CMS platform; or b) directly put money in their pockets. As the market, and Lijit, have matured both of us have expanded what we offer and what we see as value we need.
Back to the fight.
I think its in most people’s nature to try and place anyone or anything in a bucket. A bucket lets them easily sort things. The issue mostly has to do with filtering through the noise. It also helps by not having to think too much or too hard. The obvious problem with the bucket approach is that its simply too blunt and doesn’t account for what truly differentiates things.
The downside to being different than others especially in business is that you don’t have a direct competitor. Investors want you to have a competitor because it means that there is some market need that you’ve indentified that warrants a competitor. Too many competitors has the opposite effect, meaning you now are trying to differentiate in a sea of noise and perhaps not enough market to support all the competitors. But what happens when you actually a) hit on a real market need; and b) have no real direct competition?
This morning I came across an interesting story. It appears that Google has cut a deal with one of the largest domain registrars to provide new customer that wish to build a website an easy way to deploy Google’s custom (site) search. Google obviously also is a pretty big ad network so presumably these brand spankin’ new websites that install Google custom search might also want ads from Google. Now we’re getting warmer to a real direct competitor with Lijit.
This is good news for us for (2) big reasons:
1. The biggest and most bad-ass Internet company to date has realized what we’ve been saying for years.
On-site search for publishers is a big deal. It helps the publisher better engage their readers and if done right it also gives the site owners really important and actionable intent analytics on what their readers are looking for. Moreover, the Internet is fragmenting and its easier than ever to go online, find things, create content, and share. This same reduction in friction also creates a surfeit of places to go and stuff to consume. Highly engaging sites attract and influence audiences through their voice not through promotion or branding. The distribution model today isn’t controlled by a media company. This means that the importance of the mid and long-tail is growing, not declining like mainstream media sites. Connecting marketers to these sites and the audiences they attract is tough work and do be done at scale has to transcend advertising and instead be based on real and tangible value. We get that and have been doing it for years. Google has realized the same.
2. We whoop-up on Google consistently in the Mid and Long-tail for slew of reasons.
There’s a reason that these mid and long-tail sites are hard to corral. The sites that are engaging and influential today are not necessarily the ones that occupy that spot tomorrow. The authors and voices of these sites are people and people change, evolve, mature and move on. Tastes of consumers change and life-stages bring different interests. The trick is to remain agnostic to the underlying sites while delivering value to all of them equally and in proportion to their unique levels of audience engagement and influence. Understanding, empathy, service and support matter – easy to say and hard to do. Something as a company we have in our culture and in our DNA is to deeply understand the motivations of the publisher. Also something completely foreign to Google. We use technology mixed with human touch. We are all publishers ourselves. We use twitter, facebook, flickr, youtube, foursquare, twitpic, etc.. We’ve grown the company to a huge network of sites and a massive audience of uniques through understanding our market and our market propels us through word of mouth and social media.
I’m not sure how this turns out in the long run, but one thing for sure is I love competition.