Who’s top dog in the search engine world? ASK the Chihuahua!

big-and-small-dog.jpgHitwise, a well-known company that monitors Internet use, has a description on its website of how the UK search engine market share is divided up. Google predictably reigns with its omnipotent 90%-ish share of online search; it is further down the ranks that the real contest kicks in. So, with the top-dog slot firmly taken, where do the other engines rank? If Google is the Great Dane of the search engine world, who is the Saint Bernard and who is the Chihauhau?

Well, according to Hitwise, the UK market is divided like this:

Google google.com and google.co.uk 88.22%
Ask uk.ask.com 3.05%
Yahoo uk.search.yahoo.com 2.18%

I’ve combined the .com and .co.uk google here, and it is worth noting that both the Ask and Yahoo engines are the UK versions.

##Hit-not-so-wise? This data seemed a little odd to us here at Distilled so we decided to do our own mini-poll using a few of our clients. On average, google got the expected 80-90 % market share, but the other results differed widely from those listed on Hitwise.

Search engines Client 1 Client 2 Client 3
Google 82.07% 87.5% 94.02%
Yahoo 7.75% 6.25% 3.1%
Live 3.68% - 0.87%
MSN 3.06% - 0.72%
AOL 1.49% - 0.58%
Ask 0.95% - * 0.72%
*There was too little search volume for this client on these search engines for Analytics to report.

The next highest average award went easily to Yahoo (although Analytics does not differentiate between the UK and .com version) with a comfortable 5.7% of the market share. Compared to this, Ask had a paltry average of 0.57%. Not only this, it is soundly outdone by Live (an average of 2.75 %), MSN (an average of 1.89 %) and AOL (an average of 1.04 %). As a quick aside, I have chosen to keep MSN and Live separate because, unlike google.com and google.co.uk, there is much more likelihood of a user consciously and consistently choosing between versions.

Now, it’s true that Hitwise used a much wider comparison base than we did and we are by no means implying that their data is incorrect (or unwise!), but it is difficult to explain how these results could somersault so dramatically.

##Ask a lot of questions According to all the analytics stats that we can get our hands on we have not seen referral traffic in the 3% range for Ask for a good few years now. A quick brainstorm later and we aren’t much wiser. The only possible explanation we came up with that didn’t rely on hitwise having dodgy data was the fact that Ask, more than any other engine, encourages you to refine or expand your search. It’d be great to see stats on how many people don’t get the exact results they want first time round and, rather than choosing another keyword, use a suggestion that Ask comes up with. That would effectively mean that although the number of unique searches on Ask is fewer, the search volume is increased by the number of times each search is ‘refined’. Could the difference between the hitwise data and what we see be simply down to people refining their searches?

In my opinion it seems unlikely, and it relies on the hitwise data coming from a ‘number of searches made’ rather than ‘number of URL’s hit’ point of view, but that’s us out of ideas I’m afraid. Does anyone else know of any reason why the Ask numbers seem inflated, or is it just that our numbers are wrong?

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13 Comments

  1. Hi Lucy,

    I ran a few more numbers on Hitwise that might help clear this up a bit. Looking at the market share numbers you pulled from Hitwise, the combined share of the the two Google's is 30 times that of Ask UK. As you correctly state, this reflects the number of people using the engines, rather than the amount of traffic being delivered by them to other sites. So in order to get an idea of how much traffic the engines deliver to other sites, I looked at our clickstream data - specifically the upsteam data for all categories. This shows where other sites receive their traffic from, and therefore would exclude searches that are abandoned becuase these don't 'go' anywhere, except back to the search engine for another search.

    So here is the data for last week: combined, Google UK and US account for 28.19% of upstrream traffic to other sites, while for Ask UK the figure is 0.75%. This means that the multiple of the 2 Google's to Ask is 38 whn it comes to amount of traffic sent to other sites - noticably higher than the 30 for search engine market share. This in turn would imply that there are more 'successful' searches on Google than Ask. Now, this is still a bit lower than the ratios for your client's traffic, but I think we could put that down to difference in sample size - i.e. our millions of users vs. your 2 clients.

    Thanks, Robin Goad
    Director of Research, Hitwise UK

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  2. Hi Robin, thanks for stopping by to comment and thanks for running the data - when analysing the upstream traffic rather than visits to search engines you're right that it does tie in pretty closely with what we're seeing.

    Interestingly, the fact that Ask drives less upstream traffic may be due to unsuccessful OR successful searches since Ask provides a lot of images and snippets of Wikipedia right on the page so it may be that users are provided with the information they were looking for without having to visit another site. Or it may be that Ask are rubbish... Difficult to say which!

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  3. @Robin: you're right that the sample size here is pretty small - but it is indicative of what a lot of businesses are seeing based on stats we see as well as conversations with others in the industry. Thanks for looking into the upstream data though - interesting stuff.

    @Tom: Ask aren't rubbish, they bought me beer last night :)

    Oh. At search? Yeah. Hard to say - you're right that more 'successful' searches might not result in a clickthrough though.

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  4. @Robin: thanks very much Robin, really interesting to see those figures and hear your explanation. The discrepancy between the upstream data and visitors for Ask makes sense. Is that data available for the other search engines, MSN/Live and Yahoo? It would be great to see if they share a similar discrepancy or, like Google, are more consistent.

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  5. Great minds think alike guys; I was just looking at this data myself this afternoon and wondering why it hadn't caused a huge fuss in the industry - especially as December's data also had Ask 3rd (after Google uk & com), this time with MSN in 4th.

    Whilst I accept that this is about searches rather than traffic, it still strikes me as very odd. Robin - do you guys have any theories as to why there is the seeming disconnect in what we see everyday, and what your data is reporting?

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  6. Ciaran - the discrepancy comes from the difference between unique visitors to ask.com and the upstream from ask.com to websites. Whether this is due to successful or unsuccessful searches is a different matter.

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  7. I sort of got that Tom. What I'm saying is, do you really think that Ask gets more visitors than MSN or Yahoo? Or even anywhere near enough so that unsuccessful searches would account for it?

    Maybe I don't get it...

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  8. Ahh I see what you're getting at. I also think the discrepancy is high but at least there IS an explanation for it (though we're still none the wiser as to what the cause is...)

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  9. OK, quite a few questions...

    First, it's important to state the range of different measurements that we have, namely:


    Search engine share = number of searches executed on the search engines
    share of visits = measures the amount internet vsits the website (in this case a search engine) recieves
    Upstream from search = explained above


    The reason that we have these different measures is not to confuse people, but because when using the full Hitwise tool they help give you a full pictire of what's happening. Of course, the danger with only looking at one top 10 list is that it doesn't give a complete picture.

    Firstly to anwer the question about Ask being third, the reason for this is that almost all of its traffic goes to this site, whereas Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have a greater distribution across multiple URLs.

    So, looking as the UK and US domains added together, for the last 4 weeks the share of searches figures look like this:

    Google: 87.55%
    Yahoo!: 4.09%
    Microsoft: 3.59%
    Ask: 3.00%

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  10. Thanks for the update Robin - starting to become clearer!

    Do you release the stats for visits to the engines, as I tend to think this might be the most revealing one (for the reasons discussed above).

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  11. And here is share of vsits for last week - what I've done here taken the list of the top 100 search properties and grouped them by the 4 brands:

    Google: 78.01%
    Microsoft: 4.74%
    Yahoo!: 3.82%
    Ask: 2.81%

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  12. Thanks for the clarification - those figures are starting to make more and more sense.

    If you compare the share of searches figures to our (albiet limited) upstream traffic they're pretty closely tied except for Ask which just sends a really low amount of traffic.

    Do you think this is down to the quality of ask's results or is there something else going on?

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  13. I just met Gary Price from Ask over lunch here in Santa Clara. He was pretty excited by recent UK growth...

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