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Search engine usage in the UK, July 2005

Data from Internet monitoring company Hitwise shows that Google still clearly dominates the UK search market, but also includes some interesting data on how different search engines are being used and by whom.

Hitwise tracks web usage worldwide through a large number of ISPs and other major websites, claiming to monitor over 25 million Internet users around the world each day. The latest figures from the UK market indicate that Google's dominance continues, with this search engine powering 69% of all searches. Within this figure, Google.co.uk powers 62% of all internet searches with Google.com responsible for 7%, which reflects the recent policy of Google to redirect UK-based users to the local domain by default. Of the other main search tools, MSN, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves each attract close to 8.5% of searches. However, 2 other search tools make the top 10 - Wanadoo Search (3.28%) and AltaVista (0.62%) - both of which take their search results from Yahoo, thus pushing up the UK share of this search engine to second place at just over 12%.

Comparing this data with Hitwise analysis in the US confirms previous figures that show Yahoo holds a bigger share of US search traffic, up at 29% compared to Google powering 58% of all searches. Back to the UK, Hitwise also reports that Google's share of visits (at 49%) is less than the share of searches made, which indicates that this tool has a higher proportion of multi-search visits, which was also reflected by longer average session times. The report also includes some data on the use of Google's Local search tool, which was launched on 19th April, although this is therefore still early days for this service.

This usage data has been combined with some offline research by Experian which shows that Google and MSN Search attract the wealthiest online segments who are most likely to shop and book travel online. Google has a particular strength amongst those living in rural areas and retirees living comfortably, whereas Ask Jeeves is favoured by young couples with children, who are more likely to have made 4 or more purchases online and have broadband access.

The Hitwise analysis has also identified different search techniques by search engine, with MSN being more likely to generate visits from one word search phrases than other tools, whereas users of Ask Jeeves are more likely to use longer search phrases. MSN, for example, sends 16% more visits to sites from one word phrases than Google does, which may partly be explained by MSN's default setting on Internet Explorer and its usage by less 'web-savvy' searchers who may search for a company's name rather than type in the URL or search for a product. The figures for Ask Jeeves tend to reflect the historical brand position of this search engine that encouraged a question format to be used in the search box.

Brand recognition was also highlighted as a key factor in UK search activity, with many of the top search terms sending visits across the web are for leading brands or retailers. As a result, established 'clicks and mortar' stores (traditional retailers with an online presence) achieve greater online brand strength, where searches by their name are more important (and make search engine rankings easier to achieve in most cases). In contrast, pure online companies tend to have lower brand awareness and therefore rely much more on product related search activity and also need to spend more on search marketing to attract traffic share.

The final section of the new research claims that 95% of search terms are underutilised within some business sectors. This is based upon a comparison of search terms being used to drive traffic to sites in a similar market - in this case, within Apparel and Accessories. The traffic activity identified areas where there is little overlap between search terms generating visits to competing sites, which can be explained by firms with not optimising to receive visits from certain terms, or not bidding on these through PPC activity. These gaps can equate to lost revenue opportunities for websites who are missing this share of the search market.

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