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Is Google Slipping?

Getting to the top of anything is tough. Whether it’s business, sports or anything else; the race to number one is never easy. There’s typically only one thing tougher than getting to number one and that’s keeping it. Google, long recognized as the top search site, has enjoyed immense growth, popularity, and capital as a result.

Why is Google losing ground to its competitors? Why are Yahoo and MSN catching up? Discuss at WebProWorld.

But can they keep it?

Google competitors like Yahoo and Microsoft are obviously vying for Google’s spot. One thing Google has done in an effort to stay one step ahead is to pursue initiatives like Gmail and desktop search (GDS). Good ideas? Sure, but Google didn’t become the number one search engine by storing a gig of my email or sifting through the digital photos on my hard drive. After all, Yahoo and Microsoft both have search, email and desktop search too. Has Google’s focus on new services weakened their position in search?

Search engine forums like SearchEngineWatch have some long-time Google proponents like ‘pleeker’ who are beginning to have their own doubts. Pleeker posts in the SEW forum; “more and more of our clients are increasingly frustrated with Google both as searchers and as interested web site owners… it seems pretty evident that G’s SERPs are not as good as they’ve been in the past, and the Yahoo SERPs are getting better”. It sounds as though, at least in the eyes of some, Google could benefit from the old adage; ‘you dance with the one that brought you’. If you’re going to be the best in search, you have to be the best search engine, right? Email and the desktop are all fine and good but they won’t keep you on top of the search engine race if your competition is serving better results.

Keynote.com surveyed 2000 people as they worked with a number of search engines. The study examined many different metrics, including brand effectiveness, likeliness to reuse, satisfactions and loyalty. The study revealed Google was indeed still the top search engine; but the others, especially MSN and Yahoo, are closing the gap. The following is a list of the top 5 search engines and where they rank, according to Keynote:

Keynote Customer Experience Rankings
1. Google
2. Yahoo!
3. MSN
4. Ask Jeeves
5. Lycos

During 2004, Yahoo’s search engine, long time runner-up to Google, added some new features to their search interface working to improve the quality of the user experience. This also indicates Yahoo’s increased focus on search as a whole. Yahoo’s launch of their local search service was credited by Keynote for providing “significant improvement” for Yahoo’s ranking, even though most insider reaction to any local search has been less than overwhelming.

The third ranked search engine overall was also no real surprise. MSN came in at third position but closed the gap with Google. Many test subjects cited an improvement of the MSN Search result pages when ranking MSN. Again, users saw “significant improvement” because of the separation of sponsored results from natural listings, which is indicated by the data: “47% of MSN users described the site’s sponsored results as very useful in the most recent study, as compared to just 37% doing so prior to the change.”

Another area studied by Keynote was the return customer effect, or the future usage index. As you might expect, this measures “the likelihood of consumers to use a search site as their primary search tool and to return to the site in the future.” The study revealed that Google was still the number one search engine when it comes to future usage. However, both Yahoo and MSN showed a dramatic increase, with 81% of Yahoo users and 61% of MSN saying they would return.

Other interesting numbers were the amount of users willing to try a different engine if their search experience wasn’t satisfactory. According to the study, “75% of users say they have one primary search engine … when search expectations are not met up to 50% of users will turn to another search engine as an alternative.”

As always there are several ways to interpret the various figures about usage and market share being discussed in forums and message boards. Keep in mind however, for the time being at least, Google is still number one. There’s one statistic that really sticks out in this Keynote survey though. 1 in 4 users say search engines do not give them the results they need. 1 in 4 means there’s still a whole lot of people who simply don’t think they are getting sufficient results from any search engine. While Google is in the proverbial catbird seat for the time being, they may do well to keep 1 in 4 in mind. MSN and Yahoo may only be a 1 in 4 group away from unseating the champ.

Discuss this at WebProWorld.

Chris Richardson

This article is from the WebProNews newsletter, click here to visit them.

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