To the average Indian internet user, Google is God—an omnipresent and an easily accessible free service. Whether it is internet search, reading blogs, using GPS road navigation, watching a video, or simply reading and writing emails, Google is present everywhere.
The success of Google in India, and all across the world, is testimony of its carefully-designed, prompt and reliable results. Google, clearly, is an undisputed leader in the online space. However, it is up to the users to either continue with a particular service or switch from one service to another—as they can do it just by the click of a button and without spending any money.
Like elsewhere, Google has gained a firm foothold in India by reaching users across geographic and economic barriers. The internet user base is quickly expanding in India.
According to global digital measurement and analytics firm comScore, India has bypassed Japan to become the world’s third largest internet user population after China and the US. According to the report of a US-based firm, the number of online users in India is expected to touch 283.8 million by the end of 2016, outdoing the US at 264.9 million.
Some big players in the Indian internet space feel wilful intervention of Google in their business turf. They think of Google as a frenemy—a portmanteau of friend and enemy—which infuses itself between their clients and themselves, and charges what they see. According to a company that runs Bharat Matrimony, Google purposely sold its website keywords to competitors Jeevansathi and Shaadi. Another fairly similar complaint has been lodged by CCI (CUTS), a Jaipur-based consumer rights organisation.
So, is there a need to launch and promote more India-centric localised search engines? Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said, “If Indians can work in Google, why can’t Google be made in India?”
More than 15 search engines have already been launched in India since last year, which include JustDial, Khoj, Dwaar, Bhramara, Burrp, Raftaar, Getit, Tolmolbol, Asklaila, Grotal, Ease2ad, Dialus and a few more. All these Indian search engines have their own USP and search portals offering different services. However, most of them have faced stumbling blocks that have halted their growth.
- Tough competition from established global players
- Poor launch timing
- Wrong target audience
- Incapability to scale
- No successful revenue model
- Poor technology adaptability of local lingo
- Lack of sources of monetisation for these search engines
- Low internet penetration in tier-2 and tier-3 towns and rural areas
- Lack or poor quality of Indian and local content
- Limited server space
- Problem of advanced algorithms to give better results
- Irrelevant search results
Further, few Indian search engines, even when supported by other technology firms, have deep pockets needed to succeed in this field. Although there are a few flourishing search engines like JustDial and Sulekha, they cater to a very local audience.
Another thing that distinguishes any search engine is the number of documents indexed. Google leads with some 4.2 billion pages indexed.
The result is that Google still claims 81% market share in India, with Yahoo and Bing having 9.4% and 1.7%, respectively, and local search engines have less than 5% share.
Search engines are guides which show you the right direction to your destination. Whichever site gets you to that destination faster—no matter how complex your question is—succeeds. Local players need to make their search accurate and as per user satisfaction. Only this can make the user move away from existing preferred search engine.
Mobile internet opens a new window of opportunity for local and genre-specific search engines. Also, there is a need to make native language a part of business, just like Chinese companies do. Availability of local language keyboards and safety policies can help Indian players establish a strong presence in the online market.
The author is director, IndiaOnline.in, the network of 475 interlinked websites