Microsoft has been aggressively building its search market share for well over a year as measured in terms of estimated number of visitors. Current search market metrics published by companies such as Compete, comScore, Hitwise, and Nielsen are misleading and uninformed because these companies continue to use the obsolete metric of number of queries performed.
The original search market share estimates published by Media Metrix, the company comScore bought several years ago, was measured in estimated visitors during the 1990s and early 2000s. Media Metrix/comScore changed the measurement to use number of queries performed in 2003 because -- at that time -- the leading search destinations, especially Yahoo!, had transformed themselves into portals and media providers.
Hence, the number of visitors to the Yahoo! domain included many non-search visitors. Despite having better data available, Compete, Hitwise, and Nielsen have continued to follow comScore's lead in mismeasuring search market share according to number of queries performed.
The inaccuracies in search market share measurements have increased year-over-year because Google continues to transform its search results into destination content -- meaning Google is now more portal than search resource. For example, users can now search Google's extensive database for telephone numbers, addresses, news stories, product pricing, and other information without ever leaving the Google domain.
Compete actually estimates traffic based on number of visits and number of unique visitors but continues to publish obsolete metrics based on number of queries performed. Quantcast, which started collecting data in 2006, publishes audience demographics estimates which show that 50% of Google's traffic is produced by only 10% of the people who use Google.
The data published by Quantcast and Compete allow researchers to drill down to search destinations in terms of visitor and visit estimates -- thus invalidating comScore/Media Metrix' complaints about the reliability of visitor counts. The search engine industry is thus being grossly misdescribed by researchers who fail to take into consideration the informational queries that searchers use to find information without leaving Google.
Using publicly available estimates from Quantcast and Compete, researchers can now build more accurate market share estimates for leading search engines. Although Google retains its position as market leader, its actual market share is considerably smaller than reported by Compete, comScore, Hitwise, and NIelsen. According to the visitor/visits data published by Compete and Quantcast, Google commands no more than a 40% market share.
More importantly, annual visitor estimates published by Compete show that traffic to Microsoft's search destinations (live.com and search.msn.com) has increased 46.6% from December 2007 to December 2008 -- more than 6 times the rate of growth experienced by Google in terms of audience size.
By comparison, the Compete visitor estimates indicate that Ask.com lost 2.08% of its audience from December 2007 through December 2008, Yahoo! lost 14,75% of its audience in the same period, and Google only grew its audience size by 7.44%.
However, when actual estimated visits are measured according to the Compete data, Google's traffic increased by 43.37% for the year, whereas Microsoft's search visits increased by only 15.79% for the year. The huge increase in Google's visits is consistent with the increase in informational capabilities that Google made available throughout the year.
Number of estimated visits to Ask increased 1.66% despite the decrease in unique visitors.
Number of estimated visits to Search.yahoo.com decreased by 3.12%.
The data indicates that Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! all saw increased searching by their visitors, especially toward the end of the year as the Great Recession of 2008-2009 deepened.
Industry analysts who have declared Google the overall search market winner have clearly been wrong, as they continue to rely upon faulty data and inadequate analysis. Search marketers who pay attention to the radical growth in Microsoft's real search market share will be better positioned to take advantage of a shift in market focus as Microsoft approaches Google's estimated visitor counts.