Vietnamese Google killer Xalo still searching for a solid strategy with a new design, can other Vietnamese search engines advise them?

A lot of Vietnamese search engines hope to become the Vietnamese version of Google, some Baidu and the remaining Naver. It turned out a good vision and a lot of money cannot make a good product, not to say a successful, solid, sustainable one.

Brand it like Ya-who!? might be the latest example. After its launching with much fanfare and a claimed $2m investment, Xalo is finding itself totally lost on its highway. Today, Xalo launched a new homepage design, changing from a simple & clean style like Google and Baidu into a cluttered and confused reflect of Yahoo and Naver, which further mystified its brand positioning.

Is Xalo a search engine? Yes till yesterday, but today they look like a portal.

But is Xalo a portal? No, because it doesn’t produce, aggregate, or syndicate contents. Xalo the portal is only its front door, and every click will lead you to the “real” Xalo, which is a search engine.

You will even get more for less, because go to Xalo and besides search, news, music, classifieds, blogs, pictures…, you will also have translation services, weather forecast, exchange rate, stock quotes, and gold price, all on Xalo’s homepage!

Are you confused? Yes I am. Because I can’t figure out why I should use Xalo then.

Agreed that in many Asian cultures, a busy and informative homepage sometimes gain an advantage over the more simple approach. This might explain the success of Naver, and even the Russian Yandex.

However, this is only the “outsight”. A more careful look into the “insights” should reveal a good combination of user experience offerings, value proposition and competitive positioning. Naver and Yandex are successful not because of their busy and cluttered homepages but their core product offering, which is trully local language search. They do provide a better search results in their respective local languages than the mighty Google, and in the case of Naver, they even “create” search results through social QnA, in Korean characters of course. Google simply cannot compete with Naver in Korean characters, as they did with Baidu’s Chinese characters.

Fixing homepage should not solve Xalo’s problem. Multiply the product offerings on Xalo’s homepage only multiply their problem. But what is their problem actually?

Let’s beat Google with a “better” product for Vietnamese!

Yes this is Xalo’s problem. And sadly enough it is the problem of most Vietnamese search engines.

These search engines have tried to go vertical, drill down into music, video, blog, forum searches. Some went to jobs, classifieds, news searches. After domination of these satellite verticals, they plot, they will come back to beat Google in universal searches, and launch something like AdWords to monetize this. But there’s nothing more illusionist than that.

Google has 10 years of history, $20 billions in revenues, 60% of search share, $100 billion of market capitalization, 10,000 employees, and it already dominated search category in Vietnam, or a strong brand positioning in Vietnamese consumers’ mind to be more exact. Moreover, it invented PageRank, indexing, and owns a few hundreds thousand servers.

Can you think you can beat Google in Vietnam by a better PageRank algorithm, by faster indexing of all Vietnamese websites or un-monetizable verticals like music, videos, classifieds, blogs etc? Or by investing into more servers, “understanding better Vietnamese language” (this would be another illusion, as it turned out almost all Vietnamese users’queries are without Vietnamese intonation marks).

If Vietnamese search engines want to imitiate Baidu and Naver’s success, they should backward Vietnam’s language history to the “chữ Nôm” age, and luckily this is not a very practical approach.

Forget beating Google but try repositioning them

Look at all Vietnamese search engines, or so-called search engines that are competing with Google for user’s mindshare. Vietnamese search users can now choose from Socbay, Baamboo, Xalo, 7sac, Timnhanh, Zing… What are their value propositions, and do they provide a different, desirable search experience for Vietnamese users? I’m afraid not.

Instead of trying to beat Google, “outperform” them, “out-understand Vietnamese” them, Vietnamese search engines should look for ways to create a new search category by repositioning them. Google is so non-social, so “closed”, so “robotic”, so “un-human”. Position your search engine as something opposite to Google instead of imitating them. Social search, open search, semantic search, human-powered search are some options. It might be more difficult to execute on these competitive positionings, and visions, but might be the least risky way to compete with Google to win hearts and minds of Vietnamese search users, and to offer something different and of value to them.

Instead of becoming better, it would be easier to become different, or better yet unique.