Commentary

Searches And Paid Search Budgets On Rise

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Google bounced back in March, gaining U.S. search market share, according to comScore. Some view it as a sign the search giant has begun to regain its footing after weeding out irrelevant search results and finally getting regulatory approval to close on its $700 million offer to buy ITA Software, a travel data company.

As consumers head into the season of summer travel, the ITA acquisition will become more valuable to Google and marketers who market travel-related goods. While the search industry should expect to see incremental gains in paid search during the coming months, comScore notes Google took 65.7% market share in March, up from 65.4%, reversing two consecutive months of slight declines.

Good news for Google, but the Mountain View, Calif. tech company wasn't the only engine to gain share. Bing's market share rose 11.8% to 13.9% in the month, gaining the highest sequential gain after rolling out a travel flight predictor for prices.

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Google and Bing took share at the expense of Yahoo. The sites for the Sunnyvale, Calif., company ranked No. 2, but its share of the search market slid to 15.7% from 16.1%. Combined, Bing and Yahoo took 29.7% of the search market share, according to comScore. Microsoft Bing now powers the backend search feature for Yahoo's sites. Ask Network accounted for 3.1% of searches, followed by AOL with 1.6%.

Those searching for information on engines in March drove up sequential volume by 10% to 16.94 billion explicit core searches, which exclude contextually driven searches that do not reflect specific user intent to interact with the search results. Google Sites ranked No. 1 with 11.1 billion searches; followed by Yahoo with 2.7 billion; Microsoft, 2.4 billion; Ask, 520 million; and AOL, 272 million.

In the United States, Google Sites accounted for 64.1% of total core search queries; followed by Yahoo with 18%; Microsoft, 13.6%; Ask Network, 2.8%; and AOL, 1.4%, according to comScore.

In a research report Covario will release later today, the search engine marketing firm provides insight into paid search buying trends. For the past two quarters the company has been suggesting its high-tech clients increase their budgets for paid search. Two-thirds of the increase in spending in the fourth quarter in 2010 and the first quarter in 2011 will combat a 4% rise in cost per clicks (CPCs) on major search engines globally, particularly on Google, which experienced a 6% rise in CPCs between Q4 2010 and Q1 2011.

Click-through rates, however, varied per search engine. CTRs on Google and Yahoo rose to 2.9% and 1.8%, respectively, in Q1 2011, from 2.5% and 1.4% in the prior quarter. Bing fell in Q1 2011 to 2.5% from 2.8%.

Covario analysis point to Google Instant as the culprit slightly driving up CPCs, whereas Bing and Yahoo have caused a short-term increase in spending, and therefore an increase in CPCs, as advertisers reallocate budgets and re-optimize programs. In China, Baidu CPCs continue to rise as a result of reduced competition in China as Google's market share dwindles.

With larger paid search budget coming online, advertisers have little choice but to invest in relatively more expensive "generic search terms" to build top of funnel search impressions, according to the Covario report.

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