Study Sees Openings for Google Competitors

NEW YORK While Google retains a sizable lead in the search market, the Mountain View, Calif., search giant is vulnerable to user defections to alternative search engines offered by Yahoo and Microsoft, according to a study.

Nielsen//NetRatings said its Internet user data showed Google far outpacing Yahoo and MSN. In January, Google handled 47 percent of Internet searches, compared to 21 percent for Yahoo and 13 percent for MSN.

Fifty-eight percent of Google users, however, also use the search engines of Google rivals Yahoo and MSN. With few barriers to switching search sites, the research firm concluded that Yahoo and MSN could gain “significant” market share by developing innovative search applications.

“Google is the search engine to beat,” said Kaizad Gotla, an Internet analyst at New York-based Nielsen//NetRatings. “The majority of their users are still up for grabs. It poses an opportunity for their competitors, and it poses a threat to them.”

While a majority of Google users also searched elsewhere, Google had better search loyalty than Yahoo and MSN. More than 70 percent of their users visited other search sites. Yahoo and MSN lose many users to Google: Yahoo shared 39 percent of users with Google and MSN shared 33 percent.

Nielsen//NetRatings, which collects data on the search habits of 250,000 users through its MegaView Search panel, has far different search market figures than ComScore Media Metrix, the other major Web data provider. ComScore pegs Google’s lead over Yahoo as much narrower: 37.4 percent to 31.9 percent. Gotla said Nielsen//NetRatings does not include internal searches that are not related to paid search.

“These are the searches that are monetizable by the search companies,” he said. “Yahoo doesn’t get any revenue from you searching for stock quotes.”