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Sunday, May 01, 2005

More on the Search Landscape

Which search engine has the biggest share of monthly searches? That was the sort of question panelists from web measurement agencies attempted to shed light on in the Search Landscape Panel at Search Engine Strategies New York, as I reported in a recent guest article for SearchDay.

(A similar panel with Canadian stats will be happening this week at Search Engine Strategies Toronto.)

Another -- slightly different -- question is: which search engine refers the most traffic to business websites? Studies deriving from referral logs are the best way of answering this question. Web metrics companies like WebSideStory release periodic news releases with stats of this nature -- basically aggregated stats from all of their clients' site stats, as opposed to panel-based measurements of online user behavior. These can help to provide an extra data point when considering the extent of Google's dominance.

Dan Shapero of Net Applications recently passed along March numbers from his company's Hitslink stats application. It provides aggregated statistics from 40,000+ URL's on things like browser usage and search referrals.

The numbers are a bit unusually presented. Global stats are included but are a small percentage of the total, so for example "Google UK" doesn't make the top six just because Net Applications doesn't have a huge global customer base, and those customers are generating relatively little traffic. In addition, the stats don't distinguish between paid and unpaid referrals. But "content targeting" referrals are not included, just search.

All that being said, this set of numbers confirms the "Google Domination Factor":

Google 44.5%
Yahoo 17.0%
MSN 10.9%
AOL 3.2%
Dogpile 0.8%
Ask Jeeves 0.9%

Remember, there could be dozens of others on the list all around 0.5% or less, many of them being global Google, MSN, AOL, and Yahoo sites as well as a couple hundred additional tiny niche referrers. So this doesn't mean Ask Jeeves' US-based market share is 0.9%, but it does seem to mean that in the U.S., Google refers 45X more traffic to web pages that matter than Ask Jeeves does.

Another thing this could mean is that Yahoo refers a lot of traffic to larger companies who are participating in its pay-per-click or paid inclusion programs, but these same companies are not Hitslink clients. Intuitively I feel this is the case. I have no proof that Hitslink skews towards the smaller marketer, but I get the feeling it does at least exclude most of the Fortune 1000 companies who may be seeing higher CTR's from Yahoo by virtue of taking advantage of paid inclusion and PPC. That doesn't mean this is bad data -- it may mean that it's very realistic data for SME's to look at. I believe many assume Yahoo "typically" refers about as much traffic as Google. Of course many companies are atypical, but the most typical SME pattern is in fact to see the Google - Yahoo split in terms of search referrals as somewhere around 65-35. For the facts as they relate to your company, all you need to do is to look at referral logfile data over the past 12 months to see if there is a pattern. Obviously that pattern will depend heavily on how much you are spending on paid traffic.

There were few changes in the Hitslink data from February to March, but Google did gain a bit of ground at MSN's expense, which runs counter to some of the panel-based behavioral studies which have suggested MSN Search growing a bit lately at AOL's expense. Maybe so, if you watch a panel go about its daily business, but not so if you look at traffic that's actually clicking through to client sites in any tangible way.

The breakdown of Hitslink clients is as follows:

Commerce sites: 43%
Corporate sites: 18%
Content sites: 10%
Other (gov, org, SEM companies, and more): 29%

76% of Hitslink's customers use pay-per-click programs to drive traffic.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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