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:
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
- 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 Live.com.
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, CNN.com uses Yahoo search for web search but the search results page is a cnn.com 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 Ask.com 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.