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?