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AOL & Ask Show Growth In Searches But Big Players Still Big

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New quarterly statistics out from Nielsen//NetRatings show that AOL and Ask Jeeves had double-digit growth in the number of searches they handled, though the total number of searches handled by the major players left these other services far behind.

First the numbers:

Search Engine

Q1 2005
(millions)

Q2 2005
(millions)

Change
(millions)

%
Change

Google

5,737,097

6,088,343

351,246

6%

Yahoo!

2,576,473

2,798,123

221,650

9%

MSN

1,659,235

1,590,049

-69,186

-4%

AOL

562,816

646,641

83,825

15%

Ask

216,656

250,869

34,213

16%

Others

1,511,488

1,475,096

-36,392

-2%

Overall

12,263,765

12,849,121

585,356

5%

As you can see, the percent growth figures can be a bit misleading. Ask had growth of 16 percent -- which is great -- but the actual number of queries is tiny compared to Google. Ask had an increase of 34 million searches from the first and second quarter, while Google had an increase of 351 million. The Ask rise seems so significant because due to Ask's relatively small amount of traffic, it is significant to them.

NetRatings also released the latest monthly share figures for June 2005, showing what percentage of all searches done by home and work users in the US happen with each service:

June
2005

Searches (Millions)

%
Share

Google

2,032,227

47%

Yahoo!

965,644

22%

MSN

540,687

12%

AOL

237,408

5%

My Way

78,821

2%

What's probably most interesting to me is that despite all the effort and attention put into search, MSN hit its lowest level since the beginning of this year. My Nielsen NetRatings Search Engine Ratings page has past figures that document this trend.

You're also probably scratching your head about My Way. Why's it on the June 2005 chart but not on the quarterly one further above. Good question. My guess is that it IS on the quarterly chart, with traffic for Ask Jeeves-owned My Way being combined with other Ask Jeeves-owned properties, such as Ask Jeeves itself. That's also odd because as my Nielsen NetRatings Search Engine Ratings page explains, normally My Way traffic is not counted as part of Ask Jeeves.

What's driven the quarterly growth? NetRatings speculates that it is vertical search, providing this breakdown:

Search Engine

Q1 2005
(Millions)

Q2 2005
(Millions)

Change (Millions)

%
Change

Google Images

482,629

541,843

59,214

12%

Yahoo Images

92,403

143,643

51,240

55%

MSN
Images

9,305

17,694

8,389

90%

AOL
Images

5,718

9,935

4,217

74%

Ask
News

450

637

187

42%

Me being me, I wondered if the vertical searches were really driving things as much as is assumed. So here's what I did. In the chart below, I took the total number of new queries spotted in the vertical categories shown above, then divided those by overall growth to see what chunk they formed of it.

Huh? OK, we're told that Google had 351 million new queries in Q2 of this year (April to June 2005). We're also told it had 59 million new queries specifically from Google Images. So 59/351 tells me 17 percent of Google's new queries were powered by image search growth. And that means while the vertical is important, suggesting it's the main driver of overall search growth may not be right. Here are the numbers:

Search Engine

Q2 Vertical Growth

Q2 Overall Growth

% From Vertical

Google

59,214

351,246

17%

Yahoo

51,240

221,650

23%

MSN

8,389

-69,186

-12%

AOL

4,217

83,825

5%

Ask

187

34,213

1%

Look at MSN, and you'll see a big problem. MSN saw an overall DECREASE in searches but an increase when you look just at image search. So in MSN's case, having the vertical does seem to have been important, though not for growth but rather stemming losses.

And I think that's an important lesson you'll see going forward. It's always been hard to go after the established players on plain old search. But roll out an important vertical, and you might attract people who wouldn't have thought of you the first time. It's not even really a new lesson. We've long had vertical search used in this fashion but it its going through a new resurgence.

More details can be found directly from NetRatings in their press release (PDF format).


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