The three major search-engine companies have all flooded the media with news of product enhancements and big developments in the past two weeks. Both Microsoft (MSFT) and Google (GOOG) had big show-and-tell days to highlight some impressive new tricks their tech teams have put together. Microsoft's Bing rolled out enhanced visual search results. Google, meantime, unveiled jaw-dropping automated language translation and voice-activated search features. Then there was Google Goggles, a feature that allows people to snap images and use that as a cue to pull up relevant search results. (Google is not the first to do that but its version is impressive).
All of that said, in the core search market, the month of November was all about Google, as the Mountain View, Calif. market leader grew its U.S. search share by a full percentage point to 71.6%, according to Web traffic tracker Hitwise.
Conversely, both Bing and Yahoo's search property lost market share during the same period. The differential loss between Bing and Yahoo matched almost perfectly with the percentage gain for Google, implying that the search giant stole market share from its two major rivals in November.
To its credit, Bing has managed to hold on to much of its initial user base after a big splash launch last summer. It debut entailed a $100-million plus marketing campaign, which basically took over all the banner advertising on the Internet for roughly a month. Last month, Bing did increase market share, while Google remained somewhat stagnant.
Many observers wondered whether Bing would, after the marketing dollars dried up, fall back considerably. That hasn't happened, although the growth of market share for Bing first slowed -- and now appears to be headed moderately into reverse. Bing lost only 0.2% market share, according to Hitwise, while Yahoo, which will install Bing as the primary technology behind its search functionality early in 2010, lost a more substantial 0.5%.
The veracity of the numbers provided by Hitwise, ComScore, Quantcast and other Web-measurement companies has long been questioned by the companies they track. But such tools are the primary mechanism for advertisers to judge the relative value and market share of specific sites and Web properties.
For certain, Bing has taken a strong counter position to Google, as explained well in this VentureBeat post by Paul Boutin. Boutin rightly asserts that Microsoft Bing has done a lot of focus testing. It also has put a lot of thought into a search engine that emphasizes making the types of results and facts that people most search for far more accessible -- usually in a single search -- than what presently is displayed on Google.
Further, Microsoft has decided that visual search is the future for key areas such as shopping and travel. This makes sense as YouTube and video traffic growth (which were not measured in this survey) continue to outpace growth of general Web queries for text links running to search engines.
Microsoft has the deep pockets to keep plugging away at Bing for years. Even getting a 20% or 25% market share on a global basis would be enough to make Bing a highly profitable component of Microsoft. The company is trying to morph from a purveyor of traditional boxed software to a company that sells software-as-a-service, computing on demand and other offerings focused on the new Internet reality of a minimized roll for desktop and laptop computers.
That said, the big brains at Google appear to be doing something right as the search engine giant continues to print money selling text ads and grab the lion's share of Web queries and traffic.
Alex Salkever is Senior Writer at AOL Daily Finance covering technology and greentech. Follow him on twitter @alexsalkever, read his articles, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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