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Google's top search spot under threat?

Source: Silicon.com


When it comes to search engines, people overwhelmingly prefer Google - but increasing competition from a number of rivals could eventually threaten the company's top spot, a new study claims.

The survey by market research firm Vividence found Google's results vary little from those found on other search sites. In addition, despite the search king's continued success in attracting customers, its users are less likely to click on advertisements listed on its site.

Google representatives declined to comment on the study due to the quiet period the company has entered as part of its pending initial public stock offering.

To gather their results, researchers at Vividence surveyed and monitored 2,000 individuals as they interacted with search engine sites, including Google, Ask Jeeves, Lycos, Microsoft's MSN and Yahoo!. The company found Google clearly remains consumers' favourite, largely because of the search engine's less-cluttered interface.

In fact, Vividence said, almost 90 per cent of Google users reported having a "strongly positive experience," while only 68 per cent of users said the same of Yahoo!, 50 per cent for Ask Jeeves, 48 per cent for Lycos and 41 per cent for MSN.

Yet the study revealed search results on Google differ little from answers to the same queries on its competitors' sites. When comparing the accuracy of the search engines in providing information on the same topic, the results were close. For instance, Google users searching for the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 25 and 34 found the information they were looking for 55 per cent of the time. The company's rivals fell close behind with between 52 per cent and 54 per cent success rates, Vividence observed.

Peter Watkins, CEO at Vividence said: "This close performance shows you how successful Google has been at creating a brand and convincing people to come back to the site. But you have to wonder - will Google's competitors simply copy its style and win away customers?"

Several of Google's rivals have already launched stripped-down versions of their sites, including Yahoo!, which offers users the ability to ditch its wider portal properties at a simplified search site. Amazon.com's A9 search engine is another competitor that has swept away much of the clutter in favour of Google-like simplicity.

Beyond the threat of copycats looms perhaps an even more disturbing finding for Google. Vividence claims that Google trails behind its rivals in encouraging people to click on advertisements, the site's primary source of revenue. Google ranked last in Vividence ad tests that examined how frequently people followed sponsored links or advertisements.

Ask Jeeves garnered the most clicks on advertisements, followed by Lycos, MSN, Yahoo! and Google, respectively. Google provides Ask Jeeves with search-related ad links. Watkins said part of the reason why Google lags behind its competitors is the company's stringent practice of keeping ads well marked, while the other sites sometimes mix solicitations in with regular search results.

"Should Google sacrifice some of its image in order to get more clicks on ads? Maybe yes," he said. "This is a company on the verge of a $2bn IPO, so you'd have to think that competitors will copy their format, and if these competitors can also sell more ads, it makes you wonder about the future."

Watson predicted that Microsoft, which is known to be developing a new search engine and has garnered limited success from MSN, could be the biggest threat. If Microsoft can create a search engine that looks and performs like Google and charges less to advertisers, it could potentially steal users, he said.

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May. 27,  ISSUE #025

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