Search Grows, But Instant Search May Have Cooked The Numbers

As colder weather settles across the US, search engine volume begins its seasonal climb that will peak during the holiday season.

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Measurement firm comScore released its monthly Search Engine Rankings this evening and reports the number of US search queries climbed to 17.6 billion, a 4% increase over August’s totals with one fewer day.  Google’s share continued a steady climb and remains the market maker with a 66.1% marketshare.

The data behind these measurements is likely changing because of the Yahoo-Microsoft alliance.  The numbers may be further skewed by Google’s new Instant Search feature.    comScore says they’ve adjusted their counting methodology and will now count a page of search results that remains displayed for 3 seconds as another search even if the person using the search engine continues typing.

Measurement systems like comScore’s or TV ratings are often done on a “panel” basis where a particular set of users represent all users.  This is scientifically sound analysis.   It works.  And had there only been one major change this summer, tonight’s numbers might be more illuminating.

After looking at the data, I’ve decided that I want to see at least another month or two of data before completely understanding how much Instant Search is influencing the size of the market and Google’s share of that market.  For now,  the most illuminating data is that Yahoo! search queries fell from 2.72 billion to 2.68 billion.     Even when looking at the June and July numbers, which were lower for Yahoo!, it’s clear that the #2 player is fading fast.

We’ve written many times about the US search market becoming a duopoly with two major players.  Until a Facebook partnership is created with one of them, the search marketing continues crawling to that level.  Your takeaway as a small business leader is to remain aware that Yahoo!’s role as an independent, major search player is ending.

Search Share Shrinks To Two

With respect to Ask (Dr. Pepper) and AOL (fruit juices), the duopoly created by the Microsoft/Yahoo search alliance makes U.S. search a tussle between Google and Microhoo for supremacy.

comScore’s August data was released tonight and shows a minor fluctuation with Google dropping 0.4 points in market share, which were seemingly picked up Yahoo and Microsoft. If anyone you know says 4/10ths of one percent feel free to heckle them for weeks until they conceded that the change was actually 0.6%.

In the soft drink world, Coke (40% plus market share), Pepsi (30% plus) and Dr. Pepper / Snapple (15% plus) effectively control the market. Except that the companies carving out a niche in the gaps often grow profitable or threaten to and are gobbled up.

That’s the payday Fuze and Odwallla hit when Coca-Cola bought them for a combined price of more than $400 million within a relatively short 6 year span.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that you better decide whether you like Coke products, Pepsi products or both for your business. For you that means Google AdWords and Microsoft’s adCenter if you’re doing any kind of search advertising.

But there are new players out there. Bottled water (aka Facebook) is all the rage and smart companies are starting to see profitable direct response results from the social network.

And the comScore data also shows that Ask and AOL combined for 964 million searches in August. As a marketer I call that number “nearly one billion” and despite the manner in which we toss around large numbers, one billion of anything in one month is big business.

So have your Coke or your Pepsi or switch between the two.

Try some bottled water when it’s appropriate.

And if Dr. Pepper, 7-Up or fruit juices are on sale, you may want to stock up on some of those.

The comparison is overly simplistic, but the point is valid. Search advertising is now a Google-Bing world that will control more than 80% of US search engine actions this fall and winter. Other options exist, but they may not be direct substitutes.

Try them all. Don’t get in a rut.

US Search Engine Market Share

comScore Explicit Core Search Share Report*
August 2010 vs. July 2010
Total U.S. – Home/Work/University Locations
Source: comScore qSearch
Core Search Entity Explicit Core Search Share (%)
Jul-10 Aug-10 Point Change
Total Explicit Core Search 100.0% 100.0% N/A
Google Sites 65.8% 65.4% -0.4
Yahoo! Sites 17.1% 17.4% 0.3
Microsoft Sites 11.0% 11.1% 0.1
Ask Network 3.8% 3.8% 0.0
AOL LLC Network 2.3% 2.3% 0.0

Chart: comScore qSearch analysis

Android Suggests Search Results Near You

No tracker in his phone

Sopranos fans may remember Tony getting his hands on a new cell phone and having the GPS function ripped out.

You’ll forgive Palm and Windows Mobile execs if they feel like doing the same.

As Google’s Android adds features every week, the convergence between phone and Largest Search Company Ever blurs fast.   Word out of Google now is that phones using Android will change the search results based on the phone’s location to a degree of granularity we never saw with computers.

If I type the word “pizza” in a Google session on my computer, I’ll receive results about local pizza restaurants, not necessarily about pizza recipes, pizza stores, frozen pizza or anything other than a ranking that can eventually be monetized or propel the company into a data leadership role no other company can match.

Now phones with Google’s Android operating system do the same thing.  Using Google’s Search Suggest feature, the company suggests that

users in the Boston metro area begin typing “Muse”, suggestions such as “museum of science boston” and “museum of fine arts boston” are provided because people near Boston frequently look for these very popular museums

For now, people with Android phones have to opt-in to the service by visiting “Settings” on their search page and checking off  ”Allow use of device location”.

There is no word from Google on how it will use the convergence of the demographics it collects about you, your real-time physical location from your Google Microchip phone, the search information you’re presented and your subsequent real-time actions including calling someone, texting someone, walking to the museum (and just how long did that take you by which route so we can update Google Maps’ walking directions?).

Perhaps Tony Soprano had the right idea after all.

You’re A Very Funny Suburb, Mr. Chase

When he was struggling to overcome a country beseiged by Vietnam, a Vice President who had resigned over financial issues, a President who had resigned over multiple issues and recent memory of lines for gasoline, Gerald Ford was regularly lampooned by a comedian in his early 30s.   The comedian was on this new show called Saturday Night Live and spent a year being its diva star until John Belush, Gilda Radner and Bill(y) Murray knocked him out of the way.

Chevy Chase didn’t choose his name.  Apparently, Cornelius Chase was called Chevy by a relative.  That didn’t stop then-President Ford from quipping that Chase was “a very funny suburb”.     But with convergence among names and algorithims attempting to link concepts, a typical web surfer may quickly get confused.   One of Google’s response was interest-based advertising, part of the search engine’s attempt to determine whether searchers were looking for Rice University or rice pilaf as Sara likes to say.

That doesn’t stop search engines when they’re reporting the news and trying to decide if Chevy Chase is a man, a suburb or a bank.  Bing’s new XRank feature (which is prettier Google Trends so far) hits the wall on that very question today.

xrank-chevy-chase

Concepts can be a search engine's worst enemy

For the record, today’s query was likely about the bank, not the comedian. The comedian, as Jerry Ford told us, is simply a very funny suburb.

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Google’s New View On Search

As CNN trumpets the coming invasion of new search sites, Google continues rolling out gadgets and “features” to present search results in a different way.  No company tests data hardcore with as many variables as Google so the Wonder Wheel and resurrected timeline views will undoubtedly be monetized.   Then again, we thought the same about YouTube, and David Silversmith quickly burst the Google business model writing at Internet Evolution.

But with the buzz about the public debut of Wolfram|Alpha (please,  just Alpha for short) and a host of other search sites already out, looking to Google’s once-sacrosanct results page is instructive.

I took a look today at the history of Preakness Stakes and had a perfectly ordinary Google experience.  But when I evoke the Wonder Wheel (which, sadly, is not the same as Coney Island’s), my view of the horse race changes:

Google's Wonder Wheel view of search results

Google's Wonder Wheel view of search results

The timeline view, one I dislike, is also available, as are narrow searches into forums, video and other areas.  But the financial engine driving Google, the famous advertising, is gone.  Don’t worry, kids, we know it will come back, but for now take a look at a much more commercial search:  auto insurance in Virginia, with and without the magic Wonder Wheel.

Google's wheel spins around an insurance query

Google's wheel spins around an insurance query

But insurance is a pretty lucrative  search phrase.   Doing without these ads is too expensive beyond sacrificing some for testing.  Meanwhile, Alpha and its friends are still a little slow and lacking in depth to unseat the current search giant, but contenders will keep coming.   Google and Yahoo, but especially Google, ignores those upstarts at its own peril.  Simply ask AltaVista what happened a decade ago when a search site built by a couple of Stanford grad students started generating buzz.

Standard Google search results page

Standard Google search results page

Google Vagaries

There are times when Google or any other search engine seems intuitive beyond belief.  And then there are simple queries that confound me.

Many folks were not surprised but taken a little aback when major local categories such as “pizza” began showing up in results pages.  The search engine identifies the area where the searcher is located and assumes that these very local searches are for the area you’re in now.  That’s not much help if you’re looking for something later in the day or for a trip, but it’s a massive time saver, effectively turning Google into a dynamic yellow pages.
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The ABCs of Search – April 2009

As we do every month, we’ved used Google‘s Search Suggest feature to go through the alphabet and a series of men and women’s names to find trends.    When pressed for what exactly is meant by these suggestions, Google reps often reply that the data is best on commonly searched and clicked for terms.   What you will often find is that the number of pages Google indexes about a particular test does not appear to have a strong correlation to its placement.

abcDoing this process since late 2008 is starting to yield some interesting data.   There still isn’t enough data to really see some trends, but on May 1, we’re pulling data from four U.S. states to see if the suggestion holds together.  This data, as always, was pulled using Google without signing in to an account and on a fresh browser installation through a non-dedicated IP address.

Of the 26 letters in the alphabet, we see that half have not had a switch.  Since late 2008, when we pressed the letter “v” in a Google search box, we were presented with Verizon Wireless as the top choice.  The other 12 letters that have never changed are also huge brands, with the exception of  “dictionary” and “quotes”.  Their presence on the list may explain why Merriam-Webster and Roget are cash cows..  In order, the remaining 12 are:   amazon, craigs list, dictionary, ebay, facebook, hotmail, imdb, myspace, photobucket, quotes, target, and youtube.

Google itself used to be the “g” selection, but that changed this month when Gmail supplanted the home page.  This isn’t surprising giving Gmail’s seemingly unstoppable growth.   The first item of interest in this list is the continued presence of national brands.  Google has said for a long time that big brands are a core focus.

Who is the big brand on this list?   One could argue for Amazon, which appears by itself and with movie site IMDb, News Corporation, which owns MySpace and Photobucket and for eBay, which shows up on the list along with its piece of CraigsList.    Not only is branding king, but content remains critical to rank on a search engine.

Interesting Changes This Month

  • Radio Shack has replaced months of Runescape.    Is that a function of the economy sending DIY homeowners to Radio Shack or the notoriously nasty Runescape players reaching their max?
  • Southwest Airlines appeared  — the first time ever any carrier showed.   Hitwise data seems to bear out that we may not be dropping summer vacations, but they may be less expensive this year.
  • The misspelled utube, almost as funny as The Google, ruled the “U” listing for months.   We know that the USPS is considering a move to cut delivery days and that a postage hike hits next month.  Maybe that’s why the postal service beat out the video site for those who can’t spell.
  • After Zappos, one of the best run ecommerce sites ever, placed first for two months, the phrase zip codes returned.  Makes sense in conjunction with the USPS listing, n’cest pas?

Your top listing for April (measurements taken April 1 and not posted then for obvious reasons).  Look out for April’s top proper names, also measured April 1, coming later this week.

amazon
best buy
craigslist
dictionary
ebay
facebook
gmail
hotmail
imdb
jcpenney
kohls
lowes
myspace
netflix
obama
photobucket
quotes
radio shack
southwest airlines
target
usps
verizon wireless
walmart
xm radio
youtube
zip codes
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Google Trends Tracks TV – Fast Friday Fact

NEW YORK - AUGUST 26:  (L-R) American Idol Jud...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Yes, we know that porn and domain names are often searched on all search engines, including Google.  What’s always fascinating is when a TBS or TNT movie shows up in a rotation and sparks two hours of searching for a so-so flick from a decade ago.

TV juggernaut American Idol is no different and is more extreme.  As the talent show cut singers to reach its final 12 contestants, songs that the contestants chose immediately hit the Google Trends list of most popular searches.  On a day when Citi threatened to evaporate, GM hinted at bankruptcy, multiple wars continued to be fought and America searched for…

Tell Me Something Good

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Black Horse and A Cherry Tree

and so on.

You ignore American Idol at your own risk.  Even with virtually no suspense (the finals are in late spring), the show can create multiple hours of search traffic.  Find out more at Google Trends.

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