What’s the most popular search engine? There’s a new ratings metric to measure popularity: total number of “search hours” users spend at a site. The figure shows Google in a wide lead over other search engines.
Search hours are now available, based on figures from Jupiter Media Metrix and Nielsen//NetRatings. Both companies recently began releasing figures showing the total number of people performing searches at popular search engines and portals coupled with average time spent by searchers at these sites.
By multiplying the two figures — unique visitors and the average time spent per visitor — you get what I call “search hours.” This is the total time spent by all visitors searching at each search engine.
At the top of the search hours list is Google, where users spent nearly 13 million hours searching in March, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Second-place Yahoo came in with less than half that figure, 5.4 million search hours, followed by MSN Search with 4.9 million search hours logged. Figures are for U.S. home and business Internet users.
Jupiter Media Metrix also ranks Google at the top of the list in figures from February, with 11.7 million search hours. Yahoo again comes second at 6.5 million; Ask Jeeves is third with 4.8 million hours. Again, figures are for U.S. home and business users.
Search hours should not be taken as an absolute measurement of the most popular search engine. Still, the new figure is probably far more useful than the standard “audience reach” statistics we’ve long worked with. Those figures show what percentage of the Internet audience searched with a particular service in a given month.
Either Yahoo or MSN Search top the audience reach list, depending on the rating service. But audience reach doesn’t reflect total usage. Those figures count a given user only once, even if he returns to the same search engine many times per day.
Let’s say you visit Google five times per day, every day, during a given month. In that same month, you go to Yahoo once and perform a single search. Despite all that activity at Google — 150 searches — you would be counted only once as a “unique” visitor.
In contrast, search hours indicate a better blend of popularity and usage. Although Google gets fewer unique visitors than Yahoo, those visitors spend more cumulative time searching at Google over a given month. Google therefore ranks better when search hours are considered.
There’s one big potential flaw with search hours. It may take longer to find what you’re looking for at a search engine with bad results, so the cumulative time metric could reward bad search engines.
I can’t disprove this notion in Google’s case, but I think it’s unlikely. Even other portals acknowledge Google’s usage per month is extremely high because people revisit often. It’s hard to imagine people would keep returning and searching on a search engine that wastes their time.
A third metric of assessing popularity is ranking search engines by the amount of traffic they send to Web sites. Using this metric, Google and Yahoo got top honors in reports made recently by two different traffic tracking services.
According to StatMarket, Yahoo accounted for more search referrals than any other search engine: 36 percent, based on worldwide traffic measurements on April 24, 2002. Google was just behind with 32 percent of referrals, followed by MSN with 13 percent.
OneStat.com placed Google well ahead Yahoo, saying Google was responsible for 47 percent of search referrals worldwide, followed by Yahoo at 21 percent, then MSN Search at 8 percent, AltaVista at 6 percent, and Terra Lycos (presumably Lycos.com) at 5 percent.
You can lose faith in the accuracy of OneStat’s numbers when told Ixquick is sixth on the list for driving traffic, with 2.4 percent, ahead of AOL Search at 1.6 percent. Ixquick is a great meta search engine, but that it would outperform the incredibly popular AOL Search service is unlikely, especially in the United States. It suggests OneStat’s “global” data may be skewed toward a particular country.
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