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Microsoft's Bing, Google, and When Search Rings the Register

Microsoft's new web search site Bing has been increasing its market share, according to new figures from comScore. It's going to take a lot of momentum to make serious headway, as Google continued to expand control of search between April and May. But that leaves the question of when -- and how -- search actually pays off for companies.

Microsoft's "search penetration" among U.S. users went from 13.7 percent in the work week of May 25 to 16.7 percent from June 8 through June 12. Its share of search page results â€" "a proxy for overall search intensity," according to comScore â€" went from 9.1 percent from May 25 through May 29 up to 12.1 percent last work week.

But some relative improved performance over the first two weeks of Bing still faces an enormous lead by Google and, even if smaller, a still significant outpacing by Yahoo.

Google managed to increase its share a bit, leaving it with 65 percent of search. And between April and May, both Microsoft and Yahoo actually lost some search share. However, you have to take all this with a bit of salt:

  • Such numbers are inherently estimates, and so could be significantly off.
  • As comScore notes, the results do not include searches for mapping, local directory information, and user-generated videos.
  • There are other types of specialized search, like people search, that people can attempt on the main engines, but that are also available on sites devoted to them.
Raw search numbers also don't tell you anything about the business effectiveness of search engines. Clearly Google is an enormously effective revenue generator -- for Google. But there are some obvious questions:
  • How much return on investment do the companies advertising make from their ads?
  • Is there more commercial value to being somewhere in a Google search result than being toward the top in one from Microsoft? The sheer volume of answers effectively means that most sites will never be noticed. If a company is using search ads, are people actually clicking on the ads and then buying or otherwise taking a next step in the buying process?
  • Not all marketing venues are the same, and it might be that a less traveled search engine could offer a better return for the advertising investment, just as sometimes a smaller but more targeted print publication can offer a better venue for an ad than a larger one.
As you look at the list, there is also an apparent rough inverse correlation between popularity of search engine and readiness of the average person to make a purchase, a key factor in how effective ads are for most companies. Toward the bottom of the comScore list you see eBay and Amazon, sites (if we exclude the non-selling sites of Amazon, like Alexa) that people tend to frequent when they plan to buy something. Compare that to Google, which has become the site of first recourse for many when they are looking for any type of information.

Cash register image via stock.xchng user bakuninja, site standard license.