I have enjoyed using the Compete.com traffic analysis service, which provides some useful data to compare Web site traffic performance more accurately and finely than the oft-bashed Alexa statistics. While Compete offers a more limited range of sites for analysis and only a year's worth of data to mull through it's able to track real visitors, audience engagement and growth with more meaningful data. On the Compete blog recently was a post that looked at how major search engines are performing in comparison to one another for both traffic and performance. While Google leads Yahoo and Microsoft with 67 percent of market share, the Compete stats claim that Yahoo comes out on top in terms of search fulfillment - the percentage of searches that actually result in someone clicking on a link in a search results page. Compete claims that Yahoo's search fulfillment rate is 75 percent, compared with Google's 64 percent and Microsoft's 61 percent.
Does this mean that Yahoo's search results are more "clickable" than Yahoo's? Maybe so, but it's a rather ambiguous claim to make. One has to assume that with only 20 percent of people using Yahoo for searching to start with that a minority find its search results to be more useful than Google's. So for that minority they seem to use them more effectively. Overall, Yahoo searches are more optimized for people in a purchasing mode than Google search results, which tend to be optimized more for people seeing general information. With this in mind it could be that Yahoo tends to lead shoppers somewhat more specifically to product information that they're seeking - a factor that's likely to attract the brand advertisers that are at the core of Yahoo's marketing strategy.
Yahoo search benefits from doing fewer things better for fewer people, but Compete also shows that Yahoo as a whole performs far better than Google in the total attention that it gets from audiences:
While Yahoo's strong destination content helps to bolster its attention ratings it's losing ground to Microsoft in total page views as Microsoft bolsters its Live.com search engine:
In the middle of this is Google, still the overall search leader but beginning to stagnate as a destination as other search-oriented sites bolster content that transforms search portals more into destination content sites. Google has these abilities also but focuses more on solving a broader array of requirements for a broader search audience. Google also has more partners using its search technology as well as mashups and other API-based services so to some degree the Compete statistics are not revealing the full strength of Google's market presence. Google's growth as a destination search engine may have slowed, but its presence as a technology platform that influences where and how people find content in valuable contexts is growing in highly profitable directions.
All of this should serve to remind us that there is no longer one clear answer to how to create marketable value through search. You can focus on becoming more portal-like, you can focus on being more embeddable, you can focus more on a specific function such as ecommerce or you can focus on a range of functions - but regardless of the focus it's no longer a matter of just having great ranking algorithms or great server farms. Search has become just one of many tools for contextualizing Web content effectively on demand, one that will continue to grow in importance but just one tool in an arsenal of methods to be used for more effective audience engagement.