Search Engine Wars, the Local Front

Wow, it's been a busy month for news on the search and local search fronts; Microsoft Bing's growth, Yahoo and Microsoft's newly formed search partnership, and Google Caffeine to name a few.

Hard to believe that almost three months have passed since the Bing launch, but as promised in "Bing -- Early Estimations in Local Search," I'll take peek at how Bing is doing on its goal of growing Microsoft's search share. With an advertising budget of more than $80 million, most markets have been exposed to the Bing TV commercials and radio spots. So the big question is whether all this hoopla helped move the usage needle in Bing's favor.

The Numbers Please

The good news for Microsoft: the massive campaign is starting to have an impact on Bing's share. Bing ended July with an 8.9 percent search share in the United States, up from 8.4 percent in the previous month, according to comScore. As a baseline, Microsoft's search market share prior to Bing's release was at 8 percent.

Don't worry about Google, though. They still have a large lead in the U.S. at a 64.7 percent search share through July, down from 65 percent in June. By comparison, comScore shows Yahoo's market share dipped to 19.3 percent in July from 19.6 percent in June.

Consumers Are Trying It Out...and Liking It

Looking at the Hitwise Clickstream analysis for Bing in the month of July, we see that more users are visiting Bing after a stint on Google and Yahoo than the reverse. This could indicate that users of the top two engines are giving Bing a shot.

With so little downstream traffic from Bing to other search engines (only 2.75 percent to Google), one can hypothesize that Bing users are relatively satisfied with the search results that Bing delivers. The net effect is that Bing is benefiting from the huge amounts of advertising, the buzz around its launch, and is taking market share -- slowly.

Summary of Clickstream for Bing

Howdy Partner

With Microsoft and Yahoo looking to combine search assets and focus on their core strengths -- Yahoo on sales channel development and Microsoft on technology deployment -- the world of local search is about to undergo some changes.

AT&T could be one of the big winners in this collaboration. AT&T powers Bing's local search results from its YellowPages.com database, as well as Yahoo Yellow Pages and many of Yahoo's local properties. As the "Micro-Hoo" collaboration grabs additional local search share, AT&T's local advertisers will benefit from the lift in traffic.

A further sign of these deepening local and search partnerships is the recently announced sales agreement in which AT&T's local yellow pages sales force of more than 5,000 feet on the street will sell Yahoo display ad inventory to local advertisers.

Rip Van Google?

By no means has Google been sleeping while Microsoft and Yahoo have been collaborating. Google recently began testing their new real-time search product "Caffeine" in an effort to "push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness ..." according to their blog. I can't help but think that the recent release of the test site, which allows users to test the new site prior to public release, is an effort to make sure that Yahoo and Microsoft don't score all of this month's PR activity.

The new test site really seems to be more about mechanical upgrades under the hood than cosmetic changes to the output.

CompareCaffeine.com offers a side-by-side comparison of new Google (Caffeine) and old Google. There are no paid listings on Caffeine, so the organic and 10-pack listings are the only aspects that can be compared.

Compare Caffeine

Local search observations:

  • When adding a geo-designator to a search, organic results vary between the old Google and Caffeine. City vs. city + state geo pairings generate differing results.
  • Ten-pack results remain the same on our test searches.

General observations:

  • New Google is fast -- often double the speed of old Google.
  • Different algorithm -- more reliance on keyword strings to produce better results.
  • Emphasis on real-time results (competing with Twitter and Facebook's real-time search engines).

Although the specifics aren't yet defined, one thing is certain: the reengineering of Google's algorithm will challenge all businesses to change the way they look at SEO and PPC -- locally and nationally.

And the Winner Is...

Users and advertisers are winning as the local search space innovates and evolves. Users now have access to robust local content in the form of search results, merchant listings, and display advertising in an effort to help consumers make informed purchase decisions. As content continues to grow, we're seeing a major shift in how consumers are utilizing these resources.

For example, just a few short years ago, users searched primarily for brands and company names much more often than for generic categories or heading-based terms. In effect, they were using online search as a means to "find" contact or location information about a business that they had already decided on purchasing from -- almost like a White Pages look-up.

Today, the majority of local search has grown to the point where generic, category-specific keyword terms more related to "shopping" are taking place online. We can now determine that the pattern of usage matures and migrates over time as users assimilate to new local search resources. This provides advertisers with more opportunities to grow their market share by tapping into the ready-to-buy audience that these resources attract.