Compete: Microsoft Gaining Searches; Live Search Club Giveaway Working?

Compete is out with its latest search marketshare report for June 2007, showing that MSN/Windows Live Search has posted a dramatic rise since last month. This appears to be do to the Live Search Club promotion that’s going on. Below, a look at the trend, a history of how giveaways for search have and haven’t worked, as well as some revisiting to past issues with Compete’s figures.

First the figures. Below is the share of searches in the United States estimated to happen at each service, based on the ISP data, traffic panel data and toolbar tracking information that Compete gathers:

Compete: Search Marketshare, June 2007

You can see that after a constant climb since October 2006, Google finally sees a drop to 62.7 percent, down from a high of 67.0 percent for May 2007. Microsoft’s Windows Live & MSN Search service are the beneficiaries, jumping from 8.4 percent in May 2007 to 13.2 percent in June. Here’s the complete June 2007 rundown:

  • Google: 62.7%
  • Yahoo: 19.6%
  • MSN/Windows Live: 13.2%
  • Ask: 3.3%

Writes Compete about the Microsoft gain:

A good portion of the additional Live searches are coming from the Live Search Club, where you can apparently play games for points which you can redeem for fine Microsoft products. All of the games involve using Live’s search engine – to get the points, you have to search with Live.

Wow, a giveaway working? That would be a new twist. Here’s some short history to provide perspective:

  • October 1999: iWon does giveaways, builds major traffic but then slips off the charts in later years.
  • September 2004: Amazon’s A9 offers A9 Instant Rewards (now dead), a way to get 1.5 percent off Amazon purchases for searching. A9 fails to make a dent against the major search engines.
  • December 2004: Blingo launches with prizes, fails to gain significant marketshare.
  • February 2006: Microsoft runs MSN Search & Win (site now dead), fails to see major growth.
  • November 2006: Ask tries ChallengeAsk (now dead) in the UK while Zotspot launches offering to share revenues. Neither sees major growth.
  • January 2007: Microsoft does a low-key search for charity promotion.
  • May 2007: Live Search Club launched by Microsoft.

Way back in December 2005, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates started talking about the idea of giveaways and revenue-sharing to win searchers. From the Wall Street Journal article, Microsoft May Give Consumers A Share in Advertising Revenue, back then:

Speaking to Microsoft partners in India, Mr. Gates said the Redmond, Wash., company may woo individuals to its search site with cash or free content or software.

"We’ll actually go to users and say instead of us keeping all that ad revenue, we’ll actually share some of it back with the user," said Mr. Gates, according to a transcript supplied by Microsoft. "The user essentially will get paid, either money or free content or software things that they wouldn’t get if they didn’t use that search engine."

Of course, some search marketers weren’t necessarily thrilled with the idea, worrying it would ruin the quality of search traffic. From Marketing Execs Lukewarm On Plan To Pay Searchers from MediaPost:

Marketing executives said they are wary of Microsoft’s tentative plan to reimburse online users for using MSN Search to conduct searches, fearing that it will dilute the value of being associated with MSN and attract a lower-value audience.

Marketer concerns aside, perhaps Microsoft has finally latched on to a winner. Then again, it’s time for my standard caveat about search popularity figures:

Look for long-term trends. You want to view stats for several months in a row, not two isolated months compared to each other. Stats can and will plunge from one month to the next for all types of reasons, not the least due to a ratings service itself having some counting glitch. Similarly, comparing back from one month to the same time the previous year might not reflect counting changes that may have happened or been refined over that time. I want a trend line — and a long one.

I’d like to see Microsoft hold or expand its share at Compete over the coming months, before declaring the program a solid victory. In addition, let’s see what’s reflected from the other ratings services of Hitwise, NetRatings and comScore, all of which will be posting June 2007 marketshare figures over the next two weeks. I’ll be updating you on all of those, as they appear.

Let’s also go back to the figures. Notice how Yahoo took a big drop from November 2006 through March 2007, then has stabilized? That drop sounded alarm bells in my mind, not that Yahoo was suddenly sucky but perhaps there was a methodology change. So a few weeks ago, I asked Compete:

What happened to Yahoo from November 2006 onward? There was a huge drop in share that month, about 5 percent, and then incremental drops onward. Is there any explanation for this that you can see? Google saw a direct corresponding leap, except for Live’s gain in Feb. 2007.

Compete is the only service to show Yahoo having such a massive drop in November. Until then, your figures were tracking pretty closely with comScore. comScore continues to show Yahoo as holding share. Everyone else shows drops. Your figures from November 2006 onward now track almost perfectly with NetRatings.

FYI, you can see how the Compete figures compared to others in my last popularity round-up here: Comparing Search Popularity Ratings: Google Climbs & Good News For

The answer was inconclusive. Jeremy Crane, director of client services, search and portals at Compete emailed me:

We weren’t able to identify any issues with the data surrounding the October to November shift in Yahoo and Google. Since we have 10 different panels, we can look across those panels and identify if we have some type of bias showing up in one panel or another. Across every single panel, we see the same drop for Yahoo and rise in Google share in that period. Even if we look at the raw un-normalized numbers, we see this drop….

I actually put in a call to Yahoo to try and understand why this might be occurring in our data and not across the other engines. The only reasonable cause I’ve been able to come up with is that perhaps Yahoo changed their methodology for a major partner and instead of sending searchers to a Yahoo SERP they shifted to sending them to a partner branded SERP. For instance, uses Yahoo search for web search but the search results page is a URL. Since we only track the direct engine search in our share numbers, this could be a factor.

I’ll try to come back to this issue more for Compete as well as some of the other ratings services in the coming months. You can see how the issue of

whether a search on someone else’s site counts as "yours" or "theirs" can directly impact the perceived marketshare of a search network. For example, Google’s network might be rising, but that could be down to traffic from one partner such as MySpace doing well. Google itself could be losing share (or NOT!), and knowing is crucial. If Google lost a key partner, it could take a real popularity hit.

Also, I previously had written about how some of Compete’s figures seemed to change when I looked back over time. They sent me fresh figures a few weeks ago, which had further changes. As I told them:

Live in January 2007 was reported at 8.5 percent — in the new figures, it rises to 8.9 percent. For February 2007, it was 9 percent, but the new figures take it to 10.2 percent. I see this across all the search engines.

And I was told:

We actually adjusted our methodology slightly after the January data release based on some work we’ve been doing to further refine our normalization process on the search query side. Most of our systems are built around accurately projecting people estimates, so shifting this model over to accurately projecting activities (search queries) has required some fine tuning. The numbers you have for "old" February data are actually just rounded values from the actual numbers.

So if you go back to some of my past posts, bear in mind that going forward, I’m using the latest figures that Compete has provided.

By the way, you may have heard some news (and here) that Nielsen is dumping page views as a metric, to better deal with how the use of AJAX can mean people can stay on the same page and view new material. That’s not an issue with figures that Compete has provided, since these are based on volumes of searches. So far, no of the major search engines significantly offers a way to get new search results without also requiring you to load a new page (which is considered a new search).

Postscript: June Search Market Share Update: MSN still up without ClubLive from Compete is a follow-up post that removes the traffic that Live Search Club generated. That drops Live from a 13.2 percent share with it to a 9.1 percent share without. In other words, Live Search Club generated a whopping 3.1 percent share.

To put that in perspective — Live Search Club was responsible for almost as many searches as and had more searches than at AOL and other search smaller search engines in June 2007 (others beyond the big four had a combined 1.2 percent share). Compete writes that Live still had a strong month without the club. I disagree. Yep, it climbed from 8.4 percent in May to 9.1 percent in June. But it has had other odd months with that type of growth. At least according to Compete’s figures, Live Search Club is a killer search generator.

Related Topics: Business Issues: General | Channel: Strategy | Microsoft: Bing | Microsoft: Marketing | Stats: Compete | Stats: Popularity


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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  • Richard Zwicky

    Hi Danny,

    We’ve noticed a similar Google drop. In our numbers we’ve seen a drop in overall %, and in overall volume of searches.

    However, while Yahoo, MSN, ASK have also all dropped in overall search volume, their drops have been proportionately less marked than Google; hence Google’s drop appears more significant, as an overall percentage of search traffic.

    In our data Yahoo and MSN both appear up based on overall percentage of searches, although their actual overall volumes are down. Hence the MSN uptick in the Compete chart you’re looking at.

    In some industries, sites appealing to the edu sector in particular, we don’t see much movement for MSN, but we see a dramatic rise in Yahoo’s percentage of traffic.

    The reason for this change in traffic patterns is actually quite simple, and not altogether surprising: students. We actually see Google have drop-offs at all major holidays, and in certain categories of sites, we even see it every weekend.

    Students go offline for summer in June; while Universities and Colleges let out in April and May, secondary and primary schools finish in June. What happens is this deographic of user gets a lot less active online, and a lot more active offline. They still use their Yahoo mail, Facebook, MySpace accounts, but spend less time on everything. Spending less time online means less searching.

    Google’s so dominant in the student population, when students go online less (they’re working, playing sports, etc…), Google search traffic is the most impacted.

    Please let me know if you would like any additional information.



    Richard Zwicky

  • Michael Martinez

    This is the second month in a row that major search statistics providers have indicated a drop in Google query traffic. It’s too soon to know what these drops mean, as Google’s Queries-To-Visitors ratio has typically been about 3 times higher than for Yahoo!, Live, and Ask.

    Still, gains in query share when compared to Google’s loss in query share may signify a peak event for Google’s search performance. We’ll have to keep our eyes on the numbers for a few more months before we can be sure of anything.

  • Johnny T

    Danny – speaking of trend lines, I would LOVE Google Analytics to add trend lines to their graphical interface. A simple toggle on/off to show trends over time would be sweet.
    I think this would be useful in reporting to my management team in showing site performance over time – because I’ve been in meetings when some have freaked over a ‘sudden’ drop in traffic from one month over the previous, etc…

  • joe

    Could it also be indicating that Yahoo and Live are indeed catching up? I rate Yahoo just as good as Google (if not better) in the entire search experience, while Live might be a tad behind in the relevancy part, but they have improved leaps and bounds indeed in the page load time as well as relevancy compared to what they were about 6 months back.

    Anybody else notice this?

  • Matt Cutts

    Two quick thoughts:
    - Is Compete’s graph measuring overall traffic, or search traffic? Regarding the drop in Yahoo traffic, I wrote a post about this last year:
    My guess was that Yahoo switching to AJAX webmail meant that pageviews dropped a lot according to metrics. As long as users are happy, pageviews don’t matter much at all.

    - Rather than showing percentages, it would be nice if Compete would estimate the queries on each engine separately. It could be that the Club Giveaway is generating a ton of additional queries to Live but queries to other engines aren’t affected much. I tried the Chicktionary game, and it essentially gives you letters like a Scrabble tile, and you type in any words that you see. The version on Live essentially does a search on Live every time you type anything, so playing the game for 2 minutes might generate >50 searches. I’m not knocking on MSN–I think it’s a fun idea, and maybe it will generate some follow-on search loyalty. But Google could modify the Google Image Labeler game to run a search for every label you typed in, for example. That would generate a lot of searches to Google and an uptick in Compete’s metrics, but wouldn’t mean much else.

    If Compete offered (say) a bar chart with the estimated searches for each engine, that would make it easy to tell if Live was generating a ton of additional searches, and how the absolute number of queries to any engine was changing over time.

  • Matt Cutts

    Just fyi, Compete has posted a new graph that tries to exclude the searches from the Live Search Club:

    I still wish that Compete would try to give absolute estimates instead of just search share percentages, but that’s their call, I guess.

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