Content, toolbars boosting search market: SES panel

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NEW YORK - Major search engines are driving searchers to their sites in record numbers with the lure of added content and by pushing their toolbars, according to panelists in a session titled "The Search Engine Landscape" at last week's Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo.

And in a market where few things are certain for long, there is certainly no shortage of data.

"But search is not about just a bunch of words," said James Lamberi, senior vice president at comScore. "It's about people and understanding the consumer."

Of all the data his company gathered, he emphasized the 6.9 billion queries made in the U.S. market in the past month alone. That number was swelling, too, thanks in part to increased broadband usage.

"Overall consumers were satisfied [and there is] loyalty to Google," he said. "Heavy searchers accounted for about 20 percent of the search community and are driving the majority of the market share of search."

Google enjoyed 46.4 percent of the share of total searches, with Yahoo taking 27.8 percent and MSN 11.8 percent. The data represent a slow gain by Google and soft losses by others, Mr. Lamberi said.

Driving share changes, he said, were brand equity; distribution (toolbar adoption and syndicated partners); and performance in key verticals (local, video and maps, for example).

Toolbar-based search grew 74 percent and accounted for more than 1 billion queries and for 16.3 percent of total queries.

Mr. Lamberi predicted there would soon be 700 million consumers searching around the world and that Asian countries would account for a large number of these searchers. Web sites Naver.com and Baidu.com were growing fast and to be watched carefully.

Bill Tancer, general manager of global research at Hitwise, speculated on the future of Google and what the search behemoth's next foray would entail.

"When we first started doing this panel, I made a prediction … that in order for search engines to be competitive they would have to have more content. A lot of Google's rise is actually attributable to us putting YouTube into the Google properties [which] provided them with an aggregate market share of visits that is greater."

While in the past Google.com accounted for 89 percent of traffic on all Google domains, other Google properties are starting to dilute that share. Google.com now accounts for 70 percent of all traffic at Google domains, with YouTube currently accounting for 10 percent of Google's total traffic; Google Image Search taking in 8 percent; Gmail 5; Google Video 1.45; and Google News and Google Maps 1 percent each.

In other areas, Google still had stiff competition, however.

"Yahoo is still the dominant player … in terms of e-mail service," he said, "with almost 36 percent, although it is down from last year this time when it was about 43 percent.

"The big story here, though, is MySpace, because it's almost doubled its market share," he said. "MySpace mail … at Mail.myspace.com went up from 18.7 all the way to 33.5."

Gmail, meanwhile, increased slightly from 2.37 to 2.79.

Yahoo also was dominating the news and media category with 6.8 of the market share, while Google News had 1.8 percent.

In addition, Kenneth Cassar, chief analyst of Nielsen-NetRatings, said referral effectiveness, or the way people arrive at a site, was a key indicator for marketers.

He said 67 percent of searchers visited sites directly - that is, they typed in the URL - or used bookmarks to get to sites; 19 percent were driven by search referrals; and 12 percent by traditional online advertising.

"In the general merchandising category, about 80 percent of transactions are from direct URLs, but when you look at the details you do see some pretty wide swings," Mr. Cassar said. "When we look at the specialty referral category, we see that traditional online advertising is responsible for 19 percent of transactions.

"Depending on the category you're in, there is very, very divergent data. … As an advertiser it's important not to make blanket assumptions. … It's very important to think about the kind of business you're in," Mr. Cassar said.

Where there was a transaction between a buyer and a company, 84 percent of those purchases came from direct visitors to the sites, 8 percent from searches and 7 percent from traditional advertising, he said.

"While search is valuable … there is some real value in traditional online advertising beyond just branding. … If you're an advertiser, avoid the temptation to look at immediate sources of referrals to sites. Look deeper at the referrals that actually lead to purchases."

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