Quick: what's the fourth-largest search engine? The good news is, the answer is suddenly less clear than it's ever been, thanks to a comScore announcement from late August that reported, "With search becoming a more ubiquitous activity across the Web, comScore is expanding the market view of the search universe to encompass other searches that occur on the Internet." It's about time.
I've been waiting for this day since August 2006, when I published a column on "Search's MySpace Age." I wrote, "MySpace is much bigger than just a social network; it's also a search engine. ComScore has at times listed it as the sixth largest engine, albeit with less than one percent of searches." The column continued, "The growth of MySpace, which now has more than 100 million registered users, leads me to wonder what would happen if MySpace emerged as one of the top four search engines (my prediction: it will)."
The prediction took a year to come true. ComScore's latest data shows MySpace capturing 551 million searches in July 2007, compared to 438 million for AOL (the whole Time Warner Network, which includes Mapquest, had 971 million searches) and 219 million for Ask.com (the whole Ask Network, including MyWebSearch, had 449 million). By this tally, MySpace only trails Google, Yahoo, and MSN Windows Live when comparing it to the five major search engines.
The prediction wasn't perfect. YouTube had more searches than MySpace -- albeit commandingly, with just over 1 billion searches. By that standard, MySpace is really the fifth-largest engine, topping MapQuest and other AOL properties (which had 533 million searches), eBay (468 million), Craigslist (170 million), and Amazon sites (144 million). (In some ways I've waited two and a half years for this news; I considered branding eBay a search engine in a March 2005 column.)
Meanwhile, MySpace's share of searches has grown exponentially, as it captured 4.12% of all 13.4 billion Internet searches. To compare the figure to last year when comScore briefly included MySpace as the sixth largest search engine, MySpace would have captured over 7% of searches if it was included in the July 2007 "core search" category, ten times the 0.7% share it garnered in May 2006.
For publishers, there's far more at stake than bragging rights. Searching within a site is already tapped as a revenue opportunity, as signified by Google's deal powering MySpace's searches through 2010, which guarantees MySpace almost twice as much revenue as Fox Interactive Media paid for it. Given MySpace's search volume, it's a safe bet that Google will have to pay well over the minimum. On top of that direct revenue, though, couple the searches per visitor with other engagement metrics -- and publishers can make an even better case for advertisers to increase spending there.
For marketers, comScore's framework points to even more opportunity. Part of it lies in media planning, as some of these other publishers can be part of both search and display buys, and the search industry as a whole benefits from a more competitive market. There's even more potential upside for marketers when thinking about search engine optimization. This ties directly into the growing appreciation for universal search, from how Google includes other content in its main search engine results pages to a broader definition that ties into how comScore portrays this vast search universe.
Consider a search on YouTube for "Kabul football club" (without the quotes), which leads to a popular, well-rated short documentary on the Afghanistan soccer team. Enter that query in Google and the YouTube link comes up first, just as it does in Yahoo. Yet in Yahoo, the third link points to the same clip on Google Video, though Google Video doesn't appear within the first three pages of Google's own results for this search. Meanwhile, the YouTube clip ranks first in Google for "Kabul football team," but try that query on Yahoo and YouTube drops to sixth place.
Marketers can take advantage of this trend too. Last December, for example, Kodak released a commercial on YouTube where an elderly man rants about how slowly Kodak embraced digital photography while promoting how nimble it is today. Type "Kodak commercial" (without quotes) in Google and the YouTube rant ranks first, ahead of kodak.com, which ranks sixth. The same search on Yahoo brings up Kodak.com first and second followed by the YouTube video. Try "Kodak rant" on Yahoo and that YouTube video ranks first, but the video doesn't rank in the first three pages of Google for that query. The queries themselves may not be Kodak's top concerns for optimization, but they're examples of how marketers can use these other search engines to increase their touch-points with consumers regardless of how and where people are conducting the search.
This mindset offers marketers clues for how to consider optimizing for all search sites as a way to dominate natural search results in the core engines. The comScore list is just a starting point -- Digg, Flickr, Technorati, and others are all building momentum as search sites while gaining more visibility in the core engines. Of course, it's not all about social media optimization, as eBay, Amazon, and MapQuest are search engines too. It's MySpace, though, that first offered the glimpse into the future, back when it commanded less than 1% of all searches last year. Once you accept MySpace as a search engine, you're ready for much of the change ahead.