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Google Drives 70% of all Web Traffic! Wake Up MSN, YAHOO!

By Mike Banks Valentine
Posted Sunday, February 15, 2004

A recent post in a discussion list suggested that Google is becoming the Microsoft of search (dominating web search as Microsoft dominates PC operating systems). So I decided to research a theory - one I'd developed about search engine traffic. I dug into the traffic stats on three of my own sites and those of several clients that I monitor traffic for.
While this case study is tiny and certainly NOT conclusive, I'll wager it has strong parallels across small business web sites. The conclusions drawn are admittedly opinion, based on very limited statistics, but those are all that matter to those of us seeing tiny search engine traffic from supposedly monstrous portals.

The participating clients from this case study ALL submit their sites to paid inclusion programs from AltaVista, Inktomi and AskJeeves/Teoma. Two use LookSmart LookListings and all but one are listed in the YAHOO! Directory. All are listed in the Open Directory Project and all submit to smaller industry specific directories and smaller search engines. One uses Overture PPC on a limited basis, while none use Google Adwords. All were optimized by yours truly and each represent varied industries in retail, professional services and one is an information site only, is non-commercial and sells nothing. Each of them ranks well at most search engines, but see little traffic from those good rankings.

The research I did confirmed what I'd only assumed before by backing it up with solid numbers. On my own sites and those of clients that I reviewed, Google sends over 70% of all search traffic to every one of those domains in every case. This includes Google foreign variants, Google Directory and Google image search (image search numbers are tiny). The foreign Googles send tiny numbers of visitors from non-English speaking countries, but English speaking Google traffic from the UK, Canada and Australia drives more traffic than either Yahoo or MSN according to traffic statistics of those sites reviewed for this case study.

With the highest difference between compared search engine traffic of 8 percent variation between studied domains, I've compiled a list of average traffic delivered by search engines for those sites to which I have access to traffic logs. The Google percentages are inclusive of those portals that use Google results such as and Yahoo web results. Direct Yahoo results are for sites listed in their directory.

Google... 74%
Yahoo... 14%
MSN... 9%
Ask... 2%
All other SE's... 1%

I'm concerned, not that Google is too big, but that the other search engines just don't get it, don't deliver it and don't want to give it up. What is IT? Traffic!

I attribute this to one thing. Those search engines don't want to give up visitors to FR-E-E search results. They are happy to send visitors off if they gain income from that traffic in either PPC ads or advertisements of ANY sort. Knowing that those free results will lose the "eyeballs" of searchers, they struggle to deliver both PPC ads and sponsor ads that most closely approximate the search phrase entered by the searcher. Thankfully, all have dropped banner ads from the SERP's (Search Engine Result Pages).

They cannot stand the idea they will lose the visitor and seek to entice them to click on something, anything that'll earn them income. Even if it means delivering NON-relevant results to entice the searcher to use a different search phrase seeking to gain more relevant results, thereby viewing more ads and additional PPC ads the visitor may click on to deliver income to the portal.

I believe these search engine traffic percentages are a direct reflection of relevance delivered by those search engines. The more relevant the results, the more likely they'll send a higher percentage of traffic to your site.

74% of search traffic referred:
Google offers their own PPC results, offers no outside banners, Amazon links or effluvia related to the search. They deliver relevant results and visitors love that, then leave freely to return next time they want relevant results.

14% of search traffic referred:
Yahoo offers Overture PPC results (which they'll soon own), Amazon links and sponsorship links, along with that "Also search in: Yahoo! Shopping" link at the bottom of every result page, hoping you'd rather shop than to actually find what you were searching for!

9% of search traffic referred:
MSN offers Overture PPC results, "Broaden your Search" (LookSmart) links, "Shopping Results on MSN" links and a sponsor text link at the bottom of every page as though you didn't really want to find anything but their ads.

2% of search traffic referred:
Ask offers more paid results than any other search property with 5 sponsor links at the top of every search result page and TEN links to further paid sponsor results in a "Related Searches" footer to every result page. Ask sponsors provide search ads. Doesn't Ask understand that most searchers see right through this?

Relevance at each of these search engines declines further with progress down the list of traffic referred. Is it any wonder Google is the leader? They lead in relevance, therefore in search engine referred traffic. All any engine need do is provide relevant results with limited sponsors and no excessive "shopping" or multiple source PPC links and book links. If they do that, they'll compete effectively with Google. More relevant search engines deliver the traffic to web sites, NOT to their advertisers. I have a bold suggestion to make to MSN as they develop their new in-house search engine. Drop the ads, sponsors, book links, shopping links and resist the temptation to bring back banner ads. Searchers want to find what they are looking for and easily see through transparent attempts to sell stuff to them and keep them from leaving. Let go of searchers by delivering highly relevant search results while clearly labeling limited numbers of sponsor or PPC ads! The result will be devastating to Google by giving searchers a real alternative that they may prefer using!

YAHOO! has a huge task ahead of them - to integrate the recently acquired Inktomi, Overture (and Overture's recent acquisitions Altavista and Fast/AlltheWeb) search technology into their search mix. Clearly they've plenty of technology now and won't need Google when they add all these ingredients to the search soup they are cooking up. Yahoo will possess all the best technology and must only decide to provide relevant search results WITHOUT shopping links, excessive sponsor links, book links and other clutter to the SERP's. I suggest that if they show only limited Overture PPC ads and clearly labeled sponsor ads along with the relevant results - that they can also threaten Google's lead.

If the re-born, re-cooked and massively complex YAHOO! or the "new" MSN resist the temptation to send searchers to advertisers rather than sending them to relevant results, then we will have three very strong competitors in the search market. The numbers of search referrals will level off at about 30% per competitor and Google will have to fight to gain back their current dominance. If YAHOO! or MSN seek to favor advertisers over searchers, Google will maintain dominance - clear and simple.

I encourage all webmasters to do their own comparisons of traffic referrals now and then again when YAHOO! and MSN weigh in over the next year with their "new" offerings. It could get very interesting if there were some true competition in search, so referred traffic from YAHOO! and MSN starts to deliver to webmasters rather than advertisers.

About The Author
Mike Banks Valentine is a Search Engine Optimization specialist practicing ethical small business SEO Search Engine Placement, Optimization, and Marketing. SEO Tutorial


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