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The State of Search in Europe

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What is the state of search in Europe and how do the major players see search developing over the coming years?

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2005 Conference, June 1-2, London.

At the "European Search Landscape" panel, Google, MSN and Yahoo each presented their vision of how search will develop. Alongside the big three was Nielson/NetRatings and Hitwise who provided raw facts and figures on the current state of the search marketplace.

Google's Ian Carrington said that the company's vision is "simply" to make information more organized and most importantly universally accessible to everyone, whether via the web, mobile phones or any device from "anywhere."

David Graham of MSN UK followed a similar theme and noted their strategy was to expand via multiple access points such as through other Microsoft software including MSN Messenger, Outlook and Office.

Graham also mentioned the upcoming launch of MSN's Search Toolbar to complete with Yahoo and Google's offerings. According to Yahoo's Salim Mitha, about 8% of all searches are launched via toolbars, and he said that Google and Yahoo get 95% of those searches through their respective toolbars. As a result of the aggressive toolbar distribution strategies by Google, Yahoo and MSN the share of toolbar-initiated searches looks set to increase strongly over coming years.

By its own reckoning, MSN is the #2 search player in Europe, with a 21% market share. This is dwarfed by Google's 61% share— but when MSN's search toolbar integrates with MS Office, how many people will stop bothering with web browsers and use other engines? And how much of Google's share of the search market will begin to get eaten up?

According to Graham, MSN company has invested 100 million dollars on search during the previous 20 months. With Microsoft's track record with software and games consoles it could easily be argued that there will be a new number one within years.

Google's Carrington noted the increasing trend of integration of online and offline marketing campaigns. He also said that user behavior is changing, citing the mobile text language "I want 2 C U" as something that search vendors need to consider.

A Changing Landscape

Tim Roe from NetRatings presented some useful stats on country shares of the search market. Germany (29%) and UK (23%) are the largest search markets, followed by France (18%) and Italy (16%). Europe is dominated by Google and MSN, at first and second place respectively, but the market is still big enough for local players like Voila (2nd in France) and Virgilio (3rd in Italy).

The coming year may see smaller players that focus on local country needs getting stronger. For example, Ask Jeeves in the UK who is currently running a million pound TV advertising campaign. Simon Chamberlain from Hitwise emphasized the huge opportunities for innovative new entrants and strong brands.

All panelists agreed search is buoyant and growing further. As expected broadband penetration in Europe is continuing to fuel growth and people are spending more time online. Each of the big three also acknowledged strong prospects in mobile search.

Phil Robinson is the Founder and Director of ClickThrough Marketing, a UK based search engine marketing company.

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