Commentary

Bing's Gain Will Be Yahoo's Loss, While Actual Google Share Varies By Vertical

A few months ago I wrote a column about Google's rising market share, and the plain and simple reasons why Google's share will continue to increase. With MSN's recent release of Bing, the main question everyone has been asking is whether or not Bing will increase Microsoft's market share in search.

Considering the innovation, the interface and the generally good reception from users and search marketers, there is no question that Bing's new results page is a hit. But despite the hype, I don't believe Bing will maintain all of its current lift in share, particularly because the rise is due to the recent buzz and a massive ad campaign. While Bing's early numbers suggest market share victory to some, the reality is that the polls have just barely opened, and the votes that count the most will come after the ad campaign is long gone (months from now, at the earliest). Overall, I think that Bing will land on its feet with a greater share of market, though any lift will come at the expense of Yahoo, Ask.com, and the multitude of long-tail search engines that comprise that smaller slice of the search pie, rather than from Google. Google will continue to rise in share overall, for reasons I will explain below.

If any particular engine has search share to lose right now, it's Yahoo. Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz recently echoed a lack of commitment to search as a whole, which leads many to believe there is little chance the company is going to release something remotely useful enough to compete with Bing or Google, or even maintain its existing market share. It's not that Yahoo strategists lack the talent or innovative capability, it's more about the perception that Bartz is taking Yahoo's search share for granted, and is not focused on search (which is a continuation of past statements made by Yahoo President Susan Decker). Winning at search is not going to come without making it a primary focus, and no company -- not even Google -- can afford to sit and rest on its laurels and expect to maintain the status quo. Even if Yahoo's goal is to sell off search, this strategy has only succeeded in making its search assets -- arguably its finest assets -- much less valuable.

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Bing is also a major threat to Yahoo in terms of the potential loss of paid search spend. For years search marketers have found MSN search traffic to be generally high-converting, with just one problem: There was never enough of it. The bottom line is that search marketing agencies and consultants manage on behalf of their clients, and not any particular search engine. If Bing maintains at least some lift over time, budgets will continue to shift, more likely from a lower-performing Yahoo buy than from Google. On top of all this, Yahoo has taken on paid search policies that are not very popular with many search advertisers, and the climate is ripe for a shift in budgets. Loss of search share and paid spend are a double-edged sword that Yahoo should be very worried about right now.

As I mentioned in my column back in March, I predict that Google will continue to dominate and increase its share for the following reasons: They have a better search experience, better search services, better ideas on the back burner, farther reach, habitual users, and still no formidable competition. While Bing is a definite and welcome improvement (and quickly becoming my second most-used search engine), much of the "innovation" is about catching up to where Google was two years ago, and integrating a universal results approach. I'm really not trying to knock Microsoft here, because its success is good for searchers and the search industry, and I like the improvements. I just don't think the improvements are strong enough to maintain the wave Microsoft is riding now. But the company is on an upward trend nevertheless, which makes it a viable number-two challenger, for the first time in a long time. A few more repeats like this, or a Yahoo acquisition, and the landscape will be shaken up in a big way. And that's exactly the way Microsoft is looking at it.


Google's share of search varies for the Fortune 1000

The agency I work for has a proprietary search analytics program  utilized by more than 60 companies in the Fortune 1000.  Following my column on Google's rising search market share, I received a call from one of our lead directors on the analytics team. In looking at Google's reported aggregate search share of 72% as reported by Hitwise, he took a deeper dive and found that average share of actual searches referred to these clients varied greatly by vertical, though the number was very close -- 73% across all clients. By domain, the market had a wide variation, ranging from 55% to 87%, with a median of 72% (the same as the Hitwise results cited in my column linked above). But in looking at the data by vertical, it shows a completely different story. The following are referral averages across multiple clients in each vertical, but showing actual natural traffic received by engine:

Financial Services: Google averaged 62% market share across all of our financial services clients. This is in contrast to recent vertical reports in comScore showing that the click share in the financial category is 90% organic, 10% paid. In our traffic analysis, Yahoo is referring financial traffic at a higher rate.

Health Care: 65% of search visitors came from Google, also significantly lower than the market average.

High Tech: In this vertical, 85% of search visitors came from Google, which is generally on the highest end that we see in their share of search.

Travel/Hospitality: 78% share from Google.

Retail: No difference from the market, with 73% share.

It is worth noting that this traffic is skewed by the amount of content available in each site, but in general it still provides a lens with which to view traffic referrals in aggregate. The implications are that you should consider giving more weight to optimizing for the #2 and #3 engines, as they become increasingly important depending upon the vertical you are in, even if Google is still the engine of choice.
1 comment about "Bing's Gain Will Be Yahoo's Loss, While Actual Google Share Varies By Vertical ".
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  1. Thomas Kennon from Free Radicals, June 24, 2009 at 3:43 p.m.

    This piece omits any mention of the most tantalizing aspect of all this: Given Yahoo's less than committed fever for winning at search, and Bing's growing share coming out of their hide, Yahoo will continue to hemorrhage and cede share to Bing - it's erstwhile jilted suitor.

    Microsoft must carefully calculate how much blood it needs YSM to shed to bring it's price-point (and knees!) to within profitable striking distance of a speedy acquisition... before too much damage is done to the brand, it's ad revenue base and people's habit for using it. Or, Ballmer just lets the house burn down and picks up YSM at a sad, desperate fire sale.

    Either way, I completely disagree with Garner's abiding faith in his own prediction of last March about how strong Google will continue to be. That was easy - everybody in March agreed with him.

    Things are changing in search marketing and it ain't just about advertising induced sheep digging the cool, changeable colorful images each day... Bing is here to stay and - even for a Chrome addicted guy like me that loves the all-in-one URL / search bar - we're turning to Bing more and more, for it's smart relevance and intuitive UX. We're finding stuff quickly, and it feels pretty good.

    I predict that industry pundits will stop predicting Google remains god for ever, sometime before Xmas. Or Microsoft buys 'em... whichever comes first. ; >

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