Blind studies show that users can't distinguish between search results from Google, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, and Teoma. Yet when you put a logo on the page, users show a decided preference for Google. To me, that totally debunks the idea that Google's search algorithms built on the professional-journal-references model is the key to its success. As The Wall Street Journal's Lee Gomes put it: "Some say Google is the Rolls-Royce of search; maybe what it really is, is the Nike. Googlephiles may think they are exhibiting technical sophistication by their loyalty, but what they are really proving is the extent to which they have been conditioned to respond to logos and brands, just like street kids with their sneakers." (ref)
I can't get at the blind study information, unfortunately -- Fawcette's link is to a WSJ subscription article. Anybody got a pointer for me? I'd like to figure out if it was just the logo added to the page that made the difference, not any other formatting. To me, it seems the primary suckage of the MSN search engine was its interface (which is now, oddly, much like that of Google's). So it's not so surprising that by slapping the same interface on results from different engines meant users couldn't distinguish. There are other possible explanations too, besides pure brand loyalty.