Google Gains in Popularity, But Will It Last?

Over the past year, Google took market share from Yahoo and MSN, according to a new report from industry analyst Hitwise. But the increasing popularity of vertical search sites poses a significant threat to all of the major search engines.

The Hitwise report monitored U.S. internet visits to more than 1,900 search and directory web sites between August 2003 and April 2004. Combined, this category accounted for 14% of all internet visits.

During the study period, Google.com increased its share of visitors to 15%, while Yahoo.com and MSN.com both lost share, slipping to 29% and 11%, respectively. Factoring in sub-sites such as search.yahoo.com and images.google.com, Yahoo's combined share was 45%, followed by MSN at 19% and Google at 17%. Ask Jeeves, Excite, and iWon were the only three other services to make the top ten, each with about 1% share.

These market share numbers differ from other industry metrics, such as the comScore Media Metrix Search Engine Ratings which measures popularity based on search volume and the Nielsen NetRatings Search Engine Ratings which measures audience reach. Each service uses different methodologies, so the rankings are not directly comparable.

Hitwise also looked at what people search for. MSN Search has the highest percentage of visits from the very lucrative categories of shopping and classifieds, business and finance, and travel. By contrast, Yahoo Search and Google are stronger in the education, news and media, and entertainment categories.

What specific sites do people visit immediately after using a search engine? For Google, it's images.google.com, followed by a number of popular non-Google web sites such as eBay, CNN and the Internet Movie Database (Google news was #3).

Both Yahoo and MSN were more successful in routing visitors to other properties within their own networks. Notably for search marketers who are wavering on renewing their Yahoo directory listing, the most frequently visited site immediately after a Yahoo search was Yahoo's Directory.

The two most frequently visited sites after an MSN search were Google.com and Yahoo.com, suggesting dissatisfaction with MSN search results.

Though the big three dominate search market share now, vertical search sites experienced strong growth over the past year, most notably in the shopping, classifieds and travel categories. This growth is correlated with a concurrent decrease in referral visits from search engines.

In other words, searchers are becoming more sophisticated, and are learning that general purpose search engines are not always the best choice for every type of search, a mantra that we've been chanting here at Search Engine Watch for years.

Will the growth of verticals threaten the big three? Possibly, but it's more likely what we're seeing is a maturation of the industry that allows for both general purpose search engines and verticals to co-exist. A similar phenomenon occurred with television, with the original major networks dominating the scene until the advent of cable, and the explosion of niche and specialized networks and programming. While the major networks lost share to the specialized services, they still dominate in terms of overall market share.

The study also found that visitors to the three leading search engines have varying demographic profiles. The most predominant demographic for Google users is male (53.42%) aged 35-44 (25.26%) earning an annual household income between $60,000 and $100,000.

Both Yahoo Search and MSN Search capture more of the lower income demographic of $30,000 -$60,000 annual household income. Yahoo Search stands out in the younger age demographic of 25-34 (25.99%), while MSN Search is stronger with females (54.26%. All of these findings are based on data for the 12 weeks ending May 15, 2004.

SearchDay readers may request a free copy of the full report by filling out this request form (the report ID is embedded in this special URL).

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