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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - July 2005

This month we review the latest research on search engine usage in the UK. Hitwise is becoming a market-leading source of statistics on Internet usage and they have just published an update on data for the UK which we last reviewed back in April. The new information on the market share of the main search engines remains much the same over the past few months, but the additional analysis of users and usage of these tools makes interesting reading.

Also this month we review the research labs that are publicly available from the main search engines and, in particular, the beta test of a flexible search engine being developed by Yahoo!. We also consider the pervading dominance of Google which can help you to monitor what's going on in your neighbourhood.

To find out more, please read on below. You can also browse through previous editions and if you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, just submit your details using the form at the side of the page.

On to this month's news...

Latest research on the UK search engine market

The latest statistics just published by Internet monitoring company Hitwise show that Google still clearly dominates the UK search market, but also includes some interesting data on how different search engines are being used and by whom.

Hitwise tracks web usage worldwide through a large number of ISPs and other major websites, claiming to monitor over 25 million Internet users around the world each day. The latest figures from the UK market indicate that Google's dominance continues, with this search engine powering 69% of all searches. Within this figure, Google.co.uk powers 62% of all internet searches with Google.com responsible for 7%, which reflects the recent policy of Google to redirect UK-based users to the local domain by default. Of the other main search tools, MSN, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves each attract close to 8.5% of searches. However, 2 other search tools make the top 10 - Wanadoo Search (3.28%) and AltaVista (0.62%) - both of which take their search results from Yahoo, thus pushing up the UK share of this search engine to second place at just over 12%.

Comparing this data with Hitwise analysis in the US confirms previous figures that show Yahoo holds a bigger share of US search traffic, up at 29% compared to Google powering 58% of all searches. Back to the UK, Hitwise also reports that Google's share of visits (at 49%) is less than the share of searches made, which indicates that this tool has a higher proportion of multi-search visits, which was also reflected by longer average session times. The report also includes some data on the use of Google's Local search tool, which was launched on 19th April, although this is therefore still early days for this service.

This usage data has been combined with some offline research by Experian which shows that Google and MSN Search attract the wealthiest online segments who are most likely to shop and book travel online. Google has a particular strength amongst those living in rural areas and retirees living comfortably, whereas Ask Jeeves is favoured by young couples with children, who are more likely to have made 4 or more purchases online and have broadband access.

The Hitwise analysis has also identified different search techniques by search engine, with MSN being more likely to generate visits from one word search phrases than other tools, whereas users of Ask Jeeves are more likely to use longer search phrases. MSN, for example, sends 16% more visits to sites from one word phrases than Google does, which may partly be explained by MSN's default setting on Internet Explorer and its usage by less 'web-savvy' searchers who may search for a company's name rather than type in the URL or search for a product. The figures for Ask Jeeves tend to reflect the historical brand position of this search engine that encouraged a question format to be used in the search box.

Brand recognition was also highlighted as a key factor in UK search activity, with many of the top search terms sending visits across the web are for leading brands or retailers. As a result, established 'clicks and mortar' stores (traditional retailers with an online presence) achieve greater online brand strength, where searches by their name are more important (and make search engine rankings easier to achieve in most cases). In contrast, pure online companies tend to have lower brand awareness and therefore rely much more on product related search activity and also need to spend more on search marketing to attract traffic share.

The final section of the new research claims that 95% of search terms are underutilised within some business sectors. This is based upon a comparison of search terms being used to drive traffic to sites in a similar market - in this case, within Apparel and Accessories. The traffic activity identified areas where there is little overlap between search terms generating visits to competing sites, which can be explained by firms with not optimising to receive visits from certain terms, or not bidding on these through PPC activity. These gaps can equate to lost revenue opportunities for websites who are missing this share of the search market.

If you'd like to read the full copy of this research, please visit the Hitwise website or contact us directly - plus, if you'd like to discuss the implications of these findings for your web activity, we would be pleased to help.

Search engines reveal their research projects

All of the main search engines are constantly developing new search technology and applications, many of which are made available online in beta formats for web users to try them out and, if required, provide feedback. The latest projects from Yahoo! include a new twist on generating relevant search results.

The Yahoo! Next page displays a showcase of new developments, the most interesting of which, from a search marketing angle, is Yahoo! Mindset. This tool displays the standard Yahoo! Search results initially, but then gives the user the chance to move a slider one way or the other to revise the results by whether they are commercial or not ('informational'). At each point along the cursor, the search results will be presented in a different order based on a scoring system that Yahoo has allocated to each site to identify the type of content they provide.

This is a technique that has been considered for some time to try to remove commercial sites from results if users may be looking for unbiased information and advice, or vice-versa. Results are by no means perfect - try searches like 'email marketing' or 'rover cars' and see the difference in results at both ends of the scale - but this may be one way that search engines will go to try to refine and focus results for the user. This technique is also similar to the ranking sliders included on the new MSN Search tool, although it takes the classification of sites to a new level of detail.

Other new search developments can be viewed in the Google Labs and MSN Sandbox, some of which we shall review in future editions of this newsletter. Each new development tends to be supported by news or feedback options, such as blogs or forums for developers and users. A good summary of these activities has just been published by SearchEngineWatch.

If you'd like to know more about these new search technologies and how they may impact your search marketing in the future, please contact us for more details.

'Googling' your neighbours

As the dominance of Google has lead to it entering the language as a verb, the depth of information indexed by this search engine has opened up new opportunities for search, from 'googling' and individual or a neighbourhood.

You can use the power of Google to find out more about your neighbours - either around your home or work address. Simply search by your postcode and see what comes up. You can learn about the interests or activities of neighbours, possibly businesses being run from home or planning applications that have been picked up by Google as web pages or PDF documents.

You can also find out more about neighbouring companies and discover if there are any opportunities for new or shared business. Try this on other search engines as well to compare the depth or variety of data that's displayed. As Google becomes more efficient at indexing the 'deep web', so more and more content becomes available to public scrutiny and the boundaries of information get broken down on the world's foremost encyclopedia!

We hope you've found this month's newsletter informative. Please contact us if you need any more details on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions.