Survey: Relevance Tops Brand for Searchers

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Internet users ranked relevant and credible results ahead of branding and usability as the most important features they look for in a search engine, according to new research by Nielsen//NetRatings.


The New York Internet measurement and research company reported that a survey of searchers through its WebIntercept online polling service found that they judge search engines on the relevancy and credibility of their results. A majority of respondents said the most important feature in choosing a search engine is the relevancy of information provided, and 34 percent cited credible results as a top concern. Nearly one-third said receiving results quickly is most important. (Respondents could identify more than one feature as most important.)


Searchers ranked usability and brand loyalty as lower factors. Despite the move by many search sites to copy Google's bare-bones look, just 19 percent said an easy-to-use interface is a top feature. Likewise, 18 percent said a "cool design" is important, and the same percentage said a search engine being well-known was a priority.


"The bottom line is people want results, they want them quickly and they want them to make sense," said Jason Levin, a Nielsen//NetRatings analyst. "Having bells and whistles isn't as important."


The push from users for more relevant results comes as they grow more sophisticated in their searches. OneStat.com recently reported that more searchers are using multiple-word queries. Search engines have looked to improve relevancy through their search algorithms, in addition to branching out beyond just returning indexes of Web pages. For example, Google, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves return information to certain queries, ranging from weather requests to flight information to world capitals.


The focus on quality search results by Internet users also gives hope to Google competitors Yahoo and Microsoft that they can steal market share from the top search engine by building a better one on their own, despite Google's pre-eminent brand for online search.


After spending more than $2 billion acquiring search companies, Yahoo last week began to move away from using Google's search results, replacing them with its own search technology. Likewise, Microsoft's MSN is developing its own algorithmic search technology, noting its own research that users often are unsatisfied with search results.


For now, Google remains on top, recently taking top honors from Search Engine Watch for its search technology, though the newsletter said the engine's results were less reliable than in past years.


Consumers continue to turn to Google for searches. Nielsen//NetRatings said Google drew 59.3 million visitors in January compared with 45.8 million for Yahoo Search and 44.7 million for MSN Search. Another Internet researcher, comScore, measures each engine's share of search marketing. According to that gauge, Google drew 35 percent of all searches in December, followed by Yahoo with 27 percent, Time Warner sites with 16 percent and MSN with 15 percent.


Brian Morrissey covers search marketing for DM News.com. To keep up with the latest search marketing news subscribe to our free e-mail weekly newsletter Search Engine Marketing by visiting http://www.dmnews.com/cgi-bin/newslettersub.cgi .


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