Commentary

comScore Takes Closer Look At Search

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More than a few ruffled feathers and changes in what defines a search prompted comScore to release a new metric Monday called "Explicit Core Search," along with the July 2010 search market report. So, the data firm will report two versions of monthly search engine query stats, a change resulting from an increase in non-traditional searches. In a blog post comScore's Cameron Meierhoefer defines the metric as "user engagement with a search service with the intent to retrieve search results." The Core Search report will include a breakout that highlights Explicit Core Search. It will not include contextually-driven searches.

comScore released July search data late Monday. It appears the change reflected in Barclays Capital's description ties into basis points, rather than percentages, to note the slight shift. Yahoo gained 40 bps, sequentially, while Bing's share remains relatively flat. Barclays Capital also notes Yahoo's share of queries grew 1.8% in July, compared with the year-ago month, the first monthly query growth reported since April. Google also lost 40 bps for the month, with shares falling to 65.8% in July, but query growth reaccelerated to 17%, compared with the same month in the prior year. Bing's share came in flat, sequentially, at 11%, but queries grew 44% year on year.

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Yahoo may be gaining market share, but clients at search engine marketing (SEM) firm Yield Software continue to take a wait-and-see approach before pulling partial budgets from Google to put into Bing. "Until something trends for three months it really doesn't mean too much," says Matt Malden, who founded the company after leaving Siebel Systems when Oracle acquired it in 2005.

Piper Jaffray Senior Research Analyst Gene Munster agrees that one month of explicit search traffic share gain is not a trend, but wrote in a research note published Tuesday that if gains continue it could have a positive impact on the company's search segment, which lagged last quarter.

Overall, the total U.S. explicit core search (excluding searches not generated through a traditional text box) volume increased 15.1% in July, compared with the prior year, up from 10.8% sequentially.

If that hasn't confused you yet, here's the lowdown:

Explicit Core Search: Google took 65.8% of market in July, down from 66.2% in June. Microsoft Bing remained flat, sequentially, taking 11% market share. Yahoo rose to 17.1% of the market from 16.7%. AOL took 2.3% share, down from 2.4%. Ask.com remained flat at 3.8%.

Traditional Metrics: Google fell a point to 61.6%; Microsoft Bing slipped from 12.7% to 12.6%; Yahoo rose from 18.9% to 20.1%; AOL came in flat at 2.2%; and ASK fell from 3.6% to 3.5%.

Munster explains that year on year trends continue to improve for Google, but share loss remains troubling. Google posted the best query growth in July for the year. "Despite the acceleration in query growth, Google posted a share loss in the face of a real Yahoo gain since January 2009," he wrote. "The bottom line for Google is that while we have noted the share loss is not yet a trend, we believe it is bring driven by slideshows, which we do not expect Google to add in the near future and could cause continued near term share loss."

The slower growth, in part, points to a maturing search market, in my opinion. Other signs include consolidation of smaller search marketing firms, and the release of platforms that allow small businesses to support their own campaigns independently. One example is Google's AdWords. Another, search marketing firm BlueGlass released a hosted platform called SecondStep, which lets marketers self-manage organic search marketing campaigns.

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