Hitwise: Google Tops For UK Web Search But Weak With Other Offerings

Figures recently released from web monitoring firm Hitwise provide mixed messages from the UK for Google and their major competitors. The bare bones of the statistics show that Google (combining the .com and .co.uk sites) continues to dominate the search market in the UK, executing more than three quarters of British searches. MSN Search and Yahoo! Search each powered just over 7 percent each. Ask.com brings up the rear with a 5 percent share. So 96 percent of searches run in the UK are run by four companies when combining the .com and UK properties. Good news for Google one might think, but it all goes downhill from there, and the statistics show that while they are tops for search, they’re far behind in most other areas.

  • Email: If we look at the Hitwise comparision of the Google, Yahoo and MSN UK portals, in the area of email, MSN Hotmail gets over 52% of visits, Yahoo Mail takes a combined total of just over 23% of visits, while Google Mail languishes in 8th place with just 2.2%.
  • News: In the area of news and media the BBC unsurprisingly dominates with almost 30% of the visits going to their main site or specifically to the news page. A combination of Yahoo! news resources manages to get almost 2.5% and a combination of Google news resources doesn?t quite reach 2%.
  • Finance: In the business area, Google Finance only manages to be the 201st most visited resource, while both Yahoo! UK and Ireland Finance and MSN Money UK are in 1st and 5th place respectively.
  • Maps: Google fairs a little better when it comes to Map information with Google Maps in 3rd position with 13.11%; Google UK Maps and Google Earth account for 5th and 6th place with a combined total of 8.47.%. In the Shopping and Classifieds area Froogle manages 7th place with 2.49% and MSN Shopping in 11th with 2.16%.

Now, having got the figures out of the way, what messages can the three players take from the UK market? Google is obviously the place that the average user will go to get information, but the highest volume of searches were navigational, for sites such as eBay, Hotmail and Yahoo! To be fair, the same thing could be said of the other search engines as well; this is not a specific criticism of Google.

Indeed, the Hitwise data also shows that visitors to Google perform multiple searches, and use it as a navigational point from which to go where they want to. Clearly, UK searchers understand the power that Google has to help them find things, yet the message hasn?t got through about their other resources, and I think there are a number of reasons for this.

Experienced internet commentators know how to find out what Google and the rest are up to and which sites to visit. However, the average person in the street, when they look at the Google UK page see the search box, and they know what to do with that. They type in their search and off they go ? Google is there to help them navigate around the web.

But there?s no mention of their email offering, nothing about the calendar, or most of the other interesting things they are doing on the home page. True, there is the navigational bar above the search box, but what does that tell the inexperienced user? ?Graphics? is clear and ?News? makes sense, but ?Groups? or ?Froogle?? Unless a user is curious enough to click on the links they?ll never know. Besides, there is no incentive for them to find out, because Google is very good at what it does ? helps them navigate around the web. A searcher, particularly one who is new or unconfident really does need to be spoon fed; they need to know that if they click on something it will take them where they expect to go.

If we compare this to the Yahoo! UK & Ireland home page, there is a completely different feel. While I, as an experienced searcher might like the clear minimalist Google approach, the Yahoo! page is interesting, vibrant and it provides links that the user can follow. ?Video?, ?Audio? ?Business Finder?, ?Games?, ?Movies? all clearly explain what the user will get if they click on the link. Yahoo! Answers and ?In the News? again project Yahoo! as a place to get information and content. ?My Yahoo!? is so much more compelling than ?Personalised Home?. In short, the Yahoo! page is interesting, and pushes their visitors to other resources and content that they provide, and it?s no surprise to see that the logo in the top left leads to Finance where they are way out in front.

Now, it could be argued that the MSN UK home page does the same sort of thing as Yahoo! in providing links to different resources, but once again the feel of the page, from the searcher?s viewpoint, is entirely different. It?s quieter, more compact (or even dense), with an advert taking up a lot of the space above the fold. However, above that, and just below the search box are the options for ?My MSN?, ?Messenger? and ?Hotmail?. The names are reasonably intuitive for the novice user, and the link to ?Hotmail? is reassuring. Even the name is familiar; while we say ?Google it? when relating to search, everyone knows that ?Hotmail? refers to email.

Using an analogy to compare the three home pages, Google is a monastery ? silent and contemplative, MSN UK is a sophisticated dinner party, very refined and conversational, and Yahoo! is a loud, friendly and welcoming party. It?s no wonder that Heather Hopkins, director of research for Hitwise UK is quoted as saying ?Consumers are moving among these three Internet brands and seem to clearly distinguish the users of each. UK consumers use Google to navigate and search the web, MSN to communicate and Yahoo! for content.?

Is my analysis indepth and based on sound scientific principles? No, of course it isn?t; it?s based on being a searcher, watching and learning how other people search. People are not stupid, but equally will subconsciously take messages from the sites that they visit, and I think these statistics show quite clearly that all three companies are being very successful with the messages they are sending out. The question is, do they fully realize what those messages are?