ComScore Launches Search Engine Tracking System

comScore Networks, known for its Media Metrix web traffic reports, has launched a new service to track and report on searchers’ actual unique queries across 25 major search engines and portals.

Prior to the launch of the company’s qSearch search tracking and reporting system, search activity was typically measured using counts of “unique visitors” to search engines sites, or from data reported by search providers themselves.

By contrast, qSearch uses data from comScore’s Global Network, which continuously captures the complete Internet activity, including search engine queries, of a representative cross-section of more than 1.5 million global Internet users at home, work, university and non-U.S. locations.

The company expects that the data it captures on searcher behavior will be useful to a number of industry participants, including the search engines themselves, search engine marketers and analysts covering the search arena.

The new data promises to give us a clearer idea of which players are truly the most popular with searchers, by eliminating “false positives” from results reported by the engines, or from traditional “page view” counting techniques. For example, qSearch eliminates automated queries from bots and metasearch engines, as well as the double-counting that occurs when the same query is submitted more than once.

It also deals with the misrepresentation that occurs by counting all of the people who use a search engine or portal as their home page, but don’t actually perform a search. comScore research found that on average, only 41 percent of visitors to a major portal conduct a search at that portal in a given week.

Four Players Dominate Web Search

It will come as no surprise to SearchDay readers that Google is the largest global web search service, accounting for nearly one-third of all searches by English-speaking Internet users. But in the U.S., Yahoo is the leader, handling 26 percent of the 787 million average weekly U.S. searches, according to comScore.

United States
Google 33% 23%
Yahoo 24% 26%
MSN 19% 17%
AOL Proprietary & WWW 12% 20%

Share of Worldwide and U.S. Consumer Searches
(includes searches at sub-channels such as Yahoo Finance or MSN Shopping)
Four Weeks Ending January 26, 2003
Source: comScore qSearch

Interestingly, Yahoo’s strength comes not from its general web search capability, but its content channels, such as Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Sports, amounting to 58 percent of total searches at the portal.

MSN and AOL are the other top two players, with each serving a notably different type of user. MSN is popular with people at work, with 47 percent of its queries made by workplace users. AOL is more popular at home, with 64 percent of all searches at coming from home users.

Home Users Work Users University Users Total 43% 51% 6% 100% 45% 45% 10% 100% 50% 41% 9% 100% 64% 28% 8% 100%

Composition of Total Weekly Searches by Location
Four Weeks Ending January 26, 2003
Source: comScore Media Metrix qSearch

Just because these four giants dominate search doesn’t mean that smaller players aren’t getting a meaningful piece of the action. and, for example, rank first and third, respectively, in “visitor-to-searcher conversion rates.” This suggests that many searchers are deliberately choosing Dogpile and Ask Jeeves as their search engines of choice.

Overture and Google Neck and Neck in Paid Search

Paid search listings have emerged this year as an increasingly important part of any successful search engine marketing campaign. comScore data show that sites offering Overture paid listings, including Yahoo, MSN, and Alta Vista, served a total 46.8 percent of all searches conducted in the four weeks ending January 26, 2003. Over the same time period, sites serving Google results, including, AOL, and Ask, reached a comparable 46.6 percent of all searches.

Avg Visitor-to-Searcher
Conversion Rate
Avg Weekly Searches
per Searcher
Total U.S. Internet 64% 10.8 83% 5.0 82% 9.4 75% 4.4 58% 4.8 54% 7.9 52% 4.9 51% 7.1 30% 2.8 25% 4.2

Average Visitor-to-Searcher Conversion Rate
Four Weeks Ending January 26, 2003
Source: comScore qSearch

The qSearch service will likely prove quite useful to search engine marketing firms operating in the paid listings arena. comScore plans to offer clients custom research in the area, such as segmentation and click-rate analyses, as well as advertising research and analysis down to the keyword level.

comScore’s qSearch service, with its objective, third-party measurement of search activity, is poised to significantly help our understanding of searcher behavior. Although we’ve had meaningful metrics from NetRatings, and the Search Hours figure that Search Enging Watch editor Danny Sullivan has derived from their data, with the new qSearch figures there’s no need to do additional work to understand the volume. The figures are volume-centric, focusing on actual searches, rather than searchers. It’s great to have an additional metric that can be used to fairly and accurately compare the major search engines and portals, rather than relying on self-reported or anecdotal information.

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