Google’s gain is Yahoo’s loss
BY DAVID SPEAKMAN
After emerging victorious from the search engine bloodbath of the late 1990s, Yahoo Inc. now faces a fight against a company it helped put on the map.
Over the past couple of years, online users have been dumping one-time favorite Yahoo for Google Inc. as their search Web site of choice, according to a new report.
“Yahoo and Google have been battling neck-and-neck for months,” according Geoff Johnston, a vice president at WebSideStory, which analyzes 30 billion Web page views each month.
He says Google’s growth has been nothing short of phenomenal — as well as a little ironic — since he says Sunnyvale’s Yahoo Inc. is partially responsible for it.
When it comes to search technology, Mountain View-based Google Inc. has been in the lead for years.
The company first gained prominence in summer 2000 when Yahoo chose Google’s technology to replace that of Foster City-based Inktomi Corp. for Yahoo’s search engine.
Without that deal, Johnston says, “there would be no Google as we know it today.”
At the time of the summer 2000 deal, WebSideStory’s numbers showed Yahoo with about a 50 percent share of online searches, with the slack taken up by a Who’s Who list of once-giant, but now-dead — or arguably comatose — Silicon Valley-based search engines.
Remember search dot-coms Infoseek, Excite, Lycos and AltaVista?
“Those other guys really fell off the map,” Johnston says as he points out Yahoo also lost market share as Google witnessed astounding growth.
Overtaking Yahoo was not part of the early plan at Google.
“The focus at that time was on delivering a useful service,” says Cindy McCaffery, Google’s vice president of marketing.
“No Super Bowl ads here,” she says, explaining Google only recently launched small targeted advertising campaigns to increase corporate sales.
This low-key approach worked as users adopted Google on their own.
“Google has grown with little or no advertising,” confirms Jill Whalen, owner of Boston-based search engine advising firm Highranking.com. “It’s all been word of mouth and Google just spirals upward.”
One Internet user who left Yahoo for Google is Laura Straub, local manager of client services for Indianapolis-based advertising measuring service Marketing Resources Plus.
Straub says the main reason she switched was Yahoo’s intrusive use of pop-up advertising.
The numbers show Straub was not alone as droves of Web users abandoned Yahoo and went to the source of its search technology.
Using a measuring system that counts search referrals from Yahoo.com and those originating from its Google.com Web site, WebSideStory says the horse race began almost immediately.
In the first 12 months, Johnston says Google went from virtually no traffic at its own Web site to capturing 17.5 percent of the market by July 2001, while Yahoo’s share fell from about half the market to 38 percent.
Tack on another year and by July 2002, both Yahoo and Google each claimed about 35 percent of the online search referral marketplace, Johnston says.
“In the past three to four months,” he says, “it really has been neck-and-neck. Depending on the month, either Yahoo or Google come out on top.”
But, Yahoo says Google should not be crowned king yet as it’s still asserting its claim to the search engine throne.
Yahoo spokesperson Diana Lee says WebSideStory’s numbers only measure search referrals outside the Yahoo network of Web sites.
“We have been trying to keep our users on [our] site and we are seeing success with click-through rates,” she says.
Those numbers show as of the week ending Dec. 1, the average visitor stayed at Yahoo for 44 minutes. Google users on average stayed there about 7 minutes.
“Everyone knows us as a search engine,” Lee says, “and we are investing to ensure we continue to be the leader.”
“Many people are loyal to Yahoo, and use it for its robust content offerings” such as e-mail and the HotJobs help wanted classified ads, Johnston says.
But, he says, for the down-and-dirty Web search, Google comes out on top.
“When people use Google,” Johnston says, “they only want to do one thing.”
Lee says Yahoo is not resting on its laurels and is improving its service and says another advantage Yahoo has is its people.
She brushed aside Google’s publicity, which touts its use of mathematical algorithms instead of people to interpret and present its search directory.
“Our people understand the mindset of users,” she says, “and can provide more intuitive results — something ones and zeros cannot do.”
McCaffery says Google does offer a people-powered directory option through the Open Directory Project.
And if the numbers are right, Web users already know which player is best.
“It’s Google’s game to lose,” says Highranking.com’s Whalen.