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5/24/2006
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Google Is Tops For Search, But Lags Rivals In Portal Services

For services like e-mail, business, and finance and online mapping, Google lags far behind Yahoo and MSN, according to a market share study.

Google is the champion in online search, but the company falls far behind Yahoo and other rivals in popular portal services, such as Web mail, news and finance.

For the week ending May 13, Google dominated online search, accounting for 47 percent of all queries, compared with 16 percent and 12 percent for Yahoo and MSN, respectively, according to Web metrics firm Hitwise. But in comparing the rivals in terms of some of the most popular portal services, Yahoo is the clear winner in terms of total visits.

"Google is a player in search, but it has some catching up to do in the other services," Bill Tancer, general manager for global research at Hitwise, said Wednesday. "Even though there's some great functionality on the Google site, it's going to take awhile for them to pull market share from competitors."

In Web mail, for example, Yahoo Mail has a 42 percent market share, followed by MSN Hotmail, 23 percent; and MySpace Mail, 20 percent, according to Hitwise. Google Gmail is far behind at less than 3 percent.

In business and finance, Yahoo again leads with 35 percent, followed by MSN Money Central with 13 percent. Google Finance, on the other hand, is 40th in the market with slightly more than a quarter of one percent.

In online mapping services, Mapquest, which is owned by AOL, dominates with 56 percent of the market. Yahoo Maps is second with 21 percent, and Google Maps comes in third with nearly 8 percent.

Mapquest's dominance of the market is a reflection of why Google, despite its position in online search, will have to fight hard to attract users of other portal services, Tancer said. Despite Mapquest's lack of features, in comparison to competitors, it remains on top because of the strong brand it has built over the years.

"Brand power is often underestimated in comparison to functionality," Tancer said.

Besides building a brand in services dominated by rivals, Google will also need a marketing message strong enough to convince competitors' subscribers to switch. This is no small task given the amount of effort people expend in setting up these services. Web mail subscribers, for example, often set up contact lists and use the service's calendar application. In the case of finance services, subscribers often set up a portfolio of stocks to watch.

"Inputting important information makes competing players stickier in terms of their user base," Tancer said.

Nevertheless, Google has shown progress. Use of its services as a whole has increased to 4.3 percent of total Web activity from less than 3 percent in December 2004, according to Hitwise.

Google's most powerful weapon is its ability to market services through search results. Hitwise, for example, recorded a big jump in the use of Google Books, a service for searching content in books, when Google started adding a link at the bottom of search results.

The company, however, will have to pick and choose its battles, since it can't clutter its results by listing all its services.

"It's not going to be a quick battle," Tancer said of building Google's portal services.

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