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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - November 2005

This month we report on the latest data on search engines being used in the UK, where not surprisingly Google continues to dominate. We also consider a number of issues related to website statistics and the difficulties of tracking advertising activity, which is a common question that we are often asked about.

Our 'whatever happened to' feature this month looks at the Direct Hit search engine and finally we consider the recent announcement by Yahoo! Search Marketing in the US and consider what may happen in the UK (where it is still Overture).

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...

Hitwise reveals latest UK search engine statistics

Latest figures from Hitwise, the online traffic measurement company, report on search engine usage and market share in the UK during September 2005. This continues to show the dominance of the 4 main search properties in this country, and in particular, Google's overwhelming superiority being maintained. The report also tracks the usage of different vertical search options, such as news, image and local search.

This latest Hitwise UK Online Search Report indicates the market dominance of the 4 leading UK search engines - namely Google, MSN Search, Yahoo! Search and Ask Jeeves - which between them powered 81% of all search traffic in this country during September. What's more, when the UK and the .com properties of these 4 sites are combined together, this market share climbs to 94%, confirming the massive superiority of these search tools.

Within this group, Google continues to dominate the market, with the UK site powering 63% of all Internet searches during the month and 70% if you also include the .com version as well. This figure also illustrates how Google's UK domain is now the primary search tool since the .com site redirected UK users to this specific regional option. Other statistics show that the volume of searches being powered by Google increased by 77% year-on-year, which is partly expected to be due to the increasing use of the Google Toolbar. However, MSN Search's volume of searches increased by 892% in the same period, which may reflect the launch of their own search engine and the accompanying advertising since the start of this year.

The Hitwise report also includes some interesting statistics on a number of vertical search engines that are available. For example, Yahoo!'s UK and Ireland news service was the most popular news search site in September, attracting 30% of visits. The data captured by Hitwise also indicated that these users were more likely to remain within the Yahoo! network than those who visited Google's news search service, who in contrast were more likely to leave the site and visit the main print media websites that generated the stories.

With regard to the image search engines available, searches here increased by 12% compared to the same time last year and the main search engines also dominate this activity, with Google UK's image search attracting 85% of all search visits for this type of information.

The other main vertical search category that was analysed by Hitwise was local search, which also grew by 13% year-on-year. Yell.com remained the most popular vertical search site, a position that it has held for the past 15 months, attracting 64% of the market share of local search visits although its share is declining with Local.co.uk and ThomsonLocal.com taking over 5% share each. Hitwise also notes that the Google Local search has not had much impact yet, although this is growing, following its integration with Google Maps.

One other interesting trend that is reported within this Hitwise report is that data from visits and usage of search sites indicated that Google is primarily used for search activities, whereas Yahoo! is primarily used for its portal information and e-mail services, whilst MSN is primarily used for communications through e-mail, chat and groups.

You can request a free copy of this report from Hitwise for a limited period, or if you'd like to know more about the results of this latest survey and the implications for your online marketing activities, please contact us.

Keeping track of web usage data

The use of website statistics is extremely valuable and can provide essential data regarding visits to a website and usage, which in turn can help to develop the site's content and marketing activities. However, the wide range of statistical packages also represent a variety of different methods of recording and analysing online traffic data, plus there can also be discrepancies between this information and statistics provided by online advertising activities, such as pay-per-click advertising or banner adverts.

Every action taken on the web leaves a trail of data that can be harnessed to provide valuable information on the way a website works. There is a wide choice of statistical software packages that will analyse this data and present the results in a user-friendly format - we shall review some of these in a future issue of this newsletter. What is important, however, is that each of these packages will analyse data in different ways, which can lead to discrepancies between figures from different packages and also those reported by advertising tracking tools.

It is generally accepted that measurement errors between advertising tracking and website statistics can be in the range of 10-20%. This is not very helpful when you're trying to analyse the impact of an advertising campaign accurately, but it is also worth remembering that the data that is provided as part of a website marketing campaign is still much more detailed and accurate than most other media. By analysing the data trends, as well as other activity data that may contribute to the overall return on investment, such information available through the web is still a very powerful and valuable resource.

Ideally you need to get into the workings of a particular statistics package and also any advertising recording software to try to understand and identify the technical issues that may create distortions in the figures. For example, some of the most common factors are the following:

Tracking users by IP address: many users on the Internet may share the same IP address, whether accessing the web through a company server or from one of the large ISPs, such as AOL, Wanadoo or Tiscali. Therefore statistics may understate individual visits as it can appear that the same person has visited more than once.

The use of cookies: cookies are small files that are placed on a user's computer and are often used by advertising tracking software or by web statistics packages to record and remember activity data. However, depending on the browser security settings or the preferences of users, these cookies may be blocked or deleted, which means that data on visits and repeat visits could be lost.

Cached pages: Internet browsers will often 'cache' pages in their memory so that they can sometimes take the fastest route to a web page by delivering these previously visited versions of the page rather than the latest version. When this happens, such pages cannot be measured or tracked effectively.

Onsite tagging: if the tracking software or web statistics package requires tags to be placed on each page of the website, then data can be affected when new pages are added or if pages are amended and tags are not included correctly. In addition, if pages are slow to download and the user clicks on to another page or a different site instead, the tags are often the last part of the page to be loaded and therefore these visits or page views may not be counted correctly.

Click fraud: this is a common concern for advertisers and can happen in a number of ways. There are some controls in place but unscrupulous companies could using software to deliver a large number of false clicks to an advertiser. Unusual traffic patterns need to be monitored and a percentage of fraudulent or automated traffic will always need to be considered within the overall statistics.

So, all of these above issues need to be considered within any statistical analysis, but at the same time the trend data will continue to provide valuable information as usually the same issues will apply on an ongoing basis. Also web activity data is still a very detailed and incomparable level of analysis that should be used as part of any web marketing campaign, albeit with an awareness of the potential issues within the figures.

If you're using statistical data as part of your website marketing activity and would like help with interpreting this information effectively, please contact us for more information.

Whatever happened to Direct Hit?

The latest in our series where we look back at old search engines that have now largely disappeared from view features Direct Hit. In the late 1990's, this search engine attracted attention for its novel use of ranking sites and built an impressive network of search partners.

Direct Hit was launched in 1998 and stood apart from other search engines of the time due to its automated search technology that ranked sites by tracking the products, services and information that users were searching for, the amount of time they spent at various websites that were visited from the search results, and how frequently they returned to the results or the sites in question.

The idea that user patterns would help to determine the popularity of sites was an intriguing one and Direct Hit began to gain some impressive coverage of the web's search market at the time, supplying results to HotBot and also contributing listings to MSN, Lycos and Looksmart. However, the growth of this tool also coincided with the arrival of Google and, ultimately, the accuracy of the rankings couldn't compare, along with most other search tools!

In 2000, the privately owned company behind Direct Hit was bought by Ask Jeeves, who were attracted by the technology that was being developed. The remnants of Direct Hit may still be found somewhere in Ask Jeeves' results, but the site itself now takes users to Teoma, the main search engine used by Ask Jeeves that ranks sites closer to the Google model. The only traces of Direct Hit can now be found through the WayBack Archive.

If you'd like to know more about Direct Hit, or if there is a search tool that you used in the past and now wonder whatever happened to it, please let us know

Yahoo! Search Marketing drops minimum spend level

Yahoo! Search Marketing in the US (previously Overture) announced in October that they are dropping the minimum $20 a month spend target on their pay-per-click accounts. But will Overture in the UK follow suit?

Overture introduced the minimum $20 or 20 spend level in February 2004, which alienated a lot of small advertisers who were spending less than this in very focused markets or at low bid levels. This meant that any advertisers spending less than this level would be charged the difference to meet the new level and therefore this cost needed to be build into the campaign.

This was a short sighted move by Overture which prevented smaller clients testing the market and, of course, some small clients of today could become bigger advertisers of the future. However, due to 'customer feedback' the US version of Overture (now called Yahoo! Search Marketing) has announced that this minimum spend level will be scrapped. We believe that this is partly due to the impact of lost business since this change was introduced but also due to the imminent threat from MSN's own pay-per-click tool.

MSN has been testing their new PPC service in France and Singapore over recent months and is now beta testing the tool within the US. We expect the service to go 'live' in the spring of 2006 and this will have a significant impact on Overture, which we estimate relies on at least 50% of its PPC traffic from MSN. They are clearly worried about how advertisers will split their budgets after this change and want to attract more advertisers now.

A representative of Overture in the UK said that there were 'no plans' to remove the minimum spend level here yet, but watch this space - it's likely to follow suit soon.

If you currently use Overture, or have done in the past, and would like to discuss the impact of this change and the forthcoming launch of MSN's own PPC tool, please get in touch.

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.