Comparing Search Popularity Ratings: Google Climbs & Good News For Live.com

Previously, I’ve covered individually the latest search popularity figures for February 2007 in the United States that have been issued by the major ratings services of comScore, Nielsen//NetRatings, Hitwise and Compete. Now it’s time to compare the figures from each of these services against each other plus look back over the past year, to see if there’s any agreement on which search engines are winning and losing the search wars. The short story is that Google continues to rise and Microsoft’s Live.com, after months of drops, gets some good news in a flattening off or actual gain in share, depending on which service you look at.

Before we dive in, my usual caveats about search popularity figures:

  • Avoid drawing conclusions based on month-to-month comparisons. Lots of things can cause one month’s figures to be incomparable to another month. It’s better to see the trend across multiple months in a row.
     
  • Avoid drawing conclusions based on one ratings service’s figures. Each service has a unique methodology used to create popularity estimates. This means that ratings will rarely be the same between services. However, a trend that you see reflected across two or more services may give you faith in trusting that trend.

The charts below address both these issues. They show ratings for each month over the past year from multiple services. Services shown the charts:

The charts shows the share of searches in the United States that each ratings service estimates Google to have. In other countries, shares will be different – oftentimes dramatically so.

Finally, the charts use different scales. Rather than running them all from zero to 100 percent, I’ve tightened them between low and high marks unique to each service. For Google, this means a 25 percent "spread" between the high and low points. For Live.com, that’s a 7 percent spread. This will make the ups-and-downs for Live.com seem more dramatic. However, it also means you can better see specific changes with each service.

Google

Google Search Popularity, Feb. 2006-Feb. 2007

Overall, everyone agrees. Google has been growing share and continues to do so. Growth is more of continued incremental gains rather than giant spikes.

NetRatings is the exception, showing a real jump as of January 2007. This seems due to how NetRatings is reestimating the universe of searches rather than some new change with Google and its users, based on some initial follow-ups I’ve had with the company. As I learn more, I’ll update the NetRatings: Google Spike, Live.com Rise In February 2007 article where I explain the figures in more depth.

Yahoo

Yahoo Search Popularity, Feb. 2006-Feb. 2007

Until recently, Yahoo was showing a victory in the search wars by either holding share or growing it, depending on the service you looked at. However, three of them show a decline that started in December 2006. Both NetRatings and Compete show this as a dramatic one. That’s interesting, because they use different sources to assess popularity (NetRatings uses a metered panel, while Compete uses ISP data). Despite the different sources, the plunge is nearly the same.

So is Yahoo in trouble? I’ll wait a month or two before deciding. NetRatings, as I noted above, seems to have had some dramatic shifts caused by how it estimates the universe of searches out there. Compete is also the newest of the ratings services, so with respect to it, I still trust it the least. Indeed, for Yahoo to get to its current level from the 26 percent Compete gave it back in February 2006, the company would have had to lost share more dramatically than any of the other ratings services are reporting. Unfortunately, as explained, I don’t have those missing data points to better illustrate this.

comScore is reporting no corresponding drop, and Hitwise also shows things are holding more steady after an initial one-month drop in December 2006.

Overall, Yahoo may have lost some noticeable share, but it remains fairly healthy (and see NetRatings: Google Spike, Live.com Rise In February 2007 for more about how on a number of searches level, Yahoo stays especially strong).

Microsoft Live

Live.com Search Popularity, Feb. 2006-Feb. 2007

Microsoft’s Live.com has been a bad news story that’s finally turning good. After months of consistent plunges, regardless of the ratings service you looked at, now they report a leveling off or even some growth.

All of them show some uptick in January. Many have expected Microsoft to do better based on its tighter integration with IE7 and as the new Vista operating system rolls out. I’ve had my doubts about that growing share much. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong.

Both Compete and NetRatings show Live being up in February 2007. Compete’s rise might be more dramatic due to rounding (see Hitwise: Slight Google Rise In February 2007 for more about this). The NetRatings rise might be related to the internal reworking of how NetRatings is estimating the overall searches out there rather than perhaps a serious gain.

In fact, while the overall share of searches went up for Live, the number of searches according to NetRatings dropped (from 643 million in January to 618 million in February). In other words, the rise in share had more to do with other players seeing bigger loses than Live gaining new searchers.

Overall, I come down on the good news side. Only Hitwise among the four is reporting any serious drop. The rises from Compete and NetRatings might be overstated. If so, they might reduce to a leveling off — and a leveling off of Live’s year long plunge would be good news indeed.

FYI, BusinessWeek’s Where Is Microsoft Search? article out today is a freshly-minted look at Microsoft’s search efforts, especially in the wake of the recent executive shake-up leading to new search chief Satya Nadella being appointed this week.

Ask

Ask.com Search Popularity, Feb. 2006-Feb. 2007

Ask.com feels mostly like a status-quo story. It has had rises and falls and currently seems to be in a fall cycle according to three of the services. But it has also come up out of these before.

AOL

AOL Search Popularity, Feb. 2006-Feb. 2007

AOL also tends to feel like a status-quo story. The drop from NetRatings again may be more due to the internal changes in calculating estimates rather than a sudden drop. Two others show a leveling, and the Compete rise could be down to rounding.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Stats: Popularity

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://joeduck.wordpress.com Joe Duck

    Danny this is a super study of market share patterns, though I can’t help but wonder if the main point here is that the measuring services are of very dubious quality.

  • JC

    Danny if you would like the missing Compete data points drop me a note and I’ll send you the raw data. jcrane (at) compete (dot) com

  • http://www.rentvine.com/default.cfm?cs=619 Dave Dugdale

    Great info. I am becoming a big Compete.com fan. They have also stopped by my blog too and placed comments when I have talked about them.

    For me the bottom line is why pay $30K to $45 a year for HitWise or ComScore when Compete is showing the same trends and it is Free!

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