The results of a survey released this week by Keynote Systems should provide hope for the team of engineers working on Microsoft's upcoming proprietary search engine. The study, conducted by a San Mateo, California based Internet performance consultancy, surveyed 2,000 Internet users to find out which engines most satisfied their online search needs.

While it was no surprise to many within the industry that Google came out tops among survey respondents, rival companies Yahoo! and Microsoft should be pleased to know that although they remain in the same positions they held in a previous survey, they have started to gain on search titan Google. The survey found that 84% of Google users liked it enough to use it as their primary engine, a figure that is virtually unchanged from survey results released last year.

The good news for Yahoo! and Microsoft is that their value is increasing in the eyes of searchers. Last year, the survey found that 41% of Yahoo! users liked it enough to make it their primary engine. This year, that number increased by a whopping 20% to push Yahoo! to a 61% rating. Microsoft experienced an even larger jump, going from just 8% last year to 38% this year. With Microsoft preparing to launch their own engine later this year, there's a decent chance that they'll turn in an even better performance among users in next year's survey.

The increase in satisfaction levels among users supports recent findings by comScore that show Google's lead in the search market realm diminishing. In July, Google held 35.6% of the search market. That figure dropped to 34.4% only four months later. During that same time period, Yahoo! and Microsoft experienced ratings increases of 2.4% and 2% respectively.

This isn't the first time that the leader of the search industry has experienced some volatility. Long time Internet users will remember the rise and fall of once powerful engines like Webcrawler, Excite and Alta Vista. Nate Elliott, an analyst with Jupiter Research explains it this way: "Search engines are more about fashion than they are about technology. Google is cool right now. In another year or two, it's entirely possible that some other engine will be the flavor of the month. These changing tastes have knocked off every leading search engine before Google. There's no reason to think it won't happen to them, too."

These survey figures further confirm the logic that online businesses, especially small businesses need to focus on diversifying their search marketing efforts so that they are prepared to be a player when a new engine moves to the front of the pack. The days of simply worrying about gaining a strong ranking in Google, sometimes at the expense of rankings in other engines, are long gone. Companies need to focus on building strong organic and PPC presences on all of the top engines, or risk alienating a large portion of their potential audience.

As Microsoft enters the search playing field and Yahoo! and Google continue to show impressive usage figures, search marketers and business owners need to make certain that their online marketing plans allow them to compete in all three of the major arenas, as well as making sure they are prepared to compete when the next big engine comes along.

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January 18, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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