cuil's Opening Week. Big Visibility. Big Expectations. Big Problems.

As a firm that gets paid to help other companies search optimize their web sites and press releases, it's our business to check out any new search engine. So with all the hype surrounding the new search engine cuil I made sure to try it just minutes after it's launch this past week.

I was not impressed. I did several searches for companies and people that I know are all over the Internet results? Also, no images were returned for these searches, not to mention the fact that I could not easily search for News, Blogs, Video, etc.

I'm not alone in my first impression of this new search engine. Thousand of people had a similar reaction. I'll get to that in a moment.

I believe cuil has fixed many of the bugs by now but my goodness - didn't they test this stuff? As someone who owns a web based software company I am as understanding as anyone when it comes to bugs. They happen.

But when your product's sole purpose is to search and it fails to do so, you have a problem. Big problem. Especially when expectations were so high as was the case with cuil.

Here were some comments I found on various message boards this week:
"All I can say is searching for the word cuil fails to return itself as a result. Impressive.".

"I tried it for an hour. Any multi-word search generated completely useless results."

Here's is my favorite:
"Don't worry about whether cuil is good or not. In a short period of time the founders will become instant millionaires when Microsoft buys them out."
Pretty embarrassing considering cuil refers to itself as "The World's Biggest Search Engine"

If that weren't bad enough, now their name is the center of an embarrassing debate. The company (cuil) had been telling everyone the word "cuil" means "knowledge" in Irish. Well, apparently, it does not and PCWorld thought it important enough to write about.

Are people being too hard on cuil?


Cuil and their PR agency had really built-up expectations of this product prior to launch. Cuil's founders even promised it to be "more comprehensive" than Google and give users "more relevant results". Part of public relations is managing clients’ expectations, not creating unrealistic expectations amongst buyers. Fact is, this was a botched launch. Sure you got a ton of media attention but at what cost? It would have been better for cuil to beta the product, trickle access to tech thought leads and bloggers, and let it grow virally - epecially if it was as good as they said it was. Remember Google's opening day? Exactly my point.

PR firms take note - you cannot fit a square plug in a round hole no matter how creative your spin is or the size of your media Roledex.
With regard to cuil's PR, here is what Richard MacManus said about why cuil got so much PR. Great blog post Richard.

But embarrassments aside, the bigger business issue cuil faces is this:

When your business model requires you to convert millions - not hundreds or even thousands - but millions of Internet users away from Google, you cannot afford a bad opening day. Because on the Internet first impressions are everything - especially search engines.

And if that wasn't bad enough, negative PR on the Internet is on your permanent record.

Too bad - it would be nice to have another major search engine but it looks like for now, Google is the only game in town.

That said, check out cuil - it has a unique layout.

Posted by Mark Willaman

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