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NetRatings Search Popularity & Loyalty Figures

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I've posted new, improved search-specific stats from NetRatings painting a picture of search popularity in the US for January 2005. In the past, NetRatings didn't provide stats based on search volume, which I feel provides a better picture of which search engines are being used the most. Now those stats are available.

For last January, they show what you'd probably expect. Google is in the lead, followed by Yahoo, then MSN and AOL. That's the same pattern that search volume figures from comScore show as well -- though with the comScore figures, Google's lead isn't as dramatic.

comScore gives Google a 35 percent share, just ahead of Yahoo's 32 percent, for December 2004. NetRatings has Google with a 47 percent share, far ahead of Yahoo's 21 percent.

Why such a big difference? Believe me, it's not that I'm comparing comScore December 2004 figures to NetRatings January 2005 ones. Things don't change that fast!

Chances are, Yahoo's gaining some traffic that NetRatings isn't counting into its share. Each ratings service has its own "rollup" of sites that it includes within a particular parent. I try to explain these rollups as best I can on the two pages where I track stats from each service: NetRatings & comscore.

Aside from rollup, the exact way things are measured will differ, because of the technology used, tracking methods and even the makeup of panels involved.

I also worked with the NetRating figures to do my own rollup on a provider basis, in terms of editorial and paid listings share. Looking at things that way, Google has a 60 percent paid listings share to Yahoo's 34 percent. On an editorial basis, Google's at 55 percent to Yahoo's 21 percent, followed by MSN's 13 percent and Ask Jeeves with up to 5 percent.

Earlier this month, NetRatings also released (link to PDF file) some interesting "crossover" or "search loyalty" statistics. The chart below shows the percentage of those using a "Big Three" search engine of Google, Yahoo or MSN in January 2005 who either only used that search engine in the month or who used more than one.

Search
Engine

Completely Loyal

Will Search Elsewhere

Google

42%

58%

MSN

30%

70%

Yahoo

29%

71%

In other words, the chart above tells you that in January 2005, 42 percent of Google users were found to never go to another site outside of Google for their search needs. That's a much higher degree of loyalty than any of Google's competitors. Still, most Google users -- 58% -- say they DO use another search engine in addition to Google.

We've long known that people will use more than one search engine, of course. However, it's always nice to see some figures showing who is likely to gain, should a first-choice crossover happen. A first-choice crossover? That's what I call what happens when someone starts using their second-choice search engine first.

Anyone who used to use AltaVista knows this first hand. AltaVista was a leading search engine, at one time. When Google emerged, many AltaVista users started using Google as a "backup" to AltaVista, for those times when AltaVista failed. But as AltaVista's relevancy got worse, users crossed over and made Google their first choice.

I've referred to this as the Google-AltaVista X, because of the X figure made when you chart AltaVista's decline against Google's gains in 2001. See the December 2000-May 2001 Media Metrix chart archived here for an illustration of that.

In the current search wars, all the players taking on Google are hoping that those who use Google as their first choice may make a crossover and switch. And who is likely to gain? More figures from NetRatings help with this:

Searchers At...

Google

Yahoo

MSN

Completely Loyal

42%

29%

30%

Also Use Google

n/a

39%

33%

Also Use Yahoo

26%

n/a

13%

Also Use MSN

19%

11%

n/a

Use All Three

14%

21%

24%

I've bolded the key figures. At Google, most seem to depend on Yahoo as an alternative search engine. So if Google should slip, Yahoo is the most likely service to gain from that. Meanwhile at both Yahoo and MSN, it's Google that will likely gain if they should fail. Indeed, Google probably already has gained, given that more people use it in addition to those services that there are people completely loyal to them.

No service will ever likely have complete loyalty. And one thing the figures don't tell us is volume, which is another important metric. Yes, 26 percent of those who use Google also use Yahoo. But to what degree? If they use Yahoo only once per month, that's nowhere near as significant if they are using Yahoo every day in addition to Google.

Hopefully, we'll see more stats clarifying this type of thing going forward. In addition, we'll hopefully also see someone like Ask Jeeves counted in the crossover figures, as well.


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