Report: Google Leads in Search but Trails Yahoo in Portal Efforts

Google continues to gain market share in the search space, but its high-profile efforts to extend its reach into theportal realm have yet to succeed.

Outside of its search site, Google is still drawing relatively few visitors. It hasn’t made a dent inYahoo’s lead orMSN’s second-place position, according to new reports. Market research firm Hitwise said 80 percent of the traffic to Google’s growing family of sites — including Gmail, Google News and Maps, and social networking and video sites — goes to the original Google.com search site.

Market research firm Hitwise said 80 percent of the traffic to Google’s growing family of sites — including Gmail, Google News and Maps, and social networking and video sites — goes to the original Google.com search site.

Separately, comScore Networks said its data show Google gained market share in April — the ninth straight month it has picked up ground on rivals — and kept its first-place search ranking with more than 43 percent of all U.S. searches conducted. Yahoo was second, with 28 percent of searches and MSN third with just under 13 percent share, comScore said Monday.

Google gained ground from its two main rivals and also from Ask.com, which recently re-launched behind a significant re-branding effort, as well as Time Warner’s AOL.

The numbers underscore the continued strength for Google in search but also the difficulty the company may have in leveraging that strength into new areas where Yahoo and MSN have significant followings — and, in some cases, almost a full decade head start in building audiences.

To Portal or Not to Portal

Google has generally shied away from embracing the portal label, but most analysts say it’s hard to deny the trend into Web services, beginning with its Google News aggregator and continuing with Gmail — which altered the Web mail space by offering vast amounts of free storage space and forcing rivals to follow suit. The firm’s most recent offering lets users customize their Google search pages with RSS feeds and other features.

Google has also done lower-profile work on a number of portal-like services, such as social networking and the Google Base online storage and organization site.

The Hitwise data suggest most of those efforts have yet to bear fruit. Among Web mail services, for instance, Hitwise said Gmail has just 2.5 percent market share, compared to 42 percent for Yahoo Mail, 22.9 percent for MSN’s Hotmail and almost 20 percent for MySpace mail.

Google News has also not cracked the top four, ranking fifth behind leader Yahoo News and sites such as the Weather Channel, MSNBC.com and CNN.com.

The highly regarded Google Maps ranks third, behind the dominant Mapquest, with 56 percent market share, and Yahoo Maps — but ahead of MSN’s offering. Google does better when its second map-reference site, Google Earth, is taken into account, Hitwise analyst Bill Tancer noted.

Of all visits to Google properties, the image search engine draws the second-most visitors, with 9.5 percent, followed by Gmail at 5.5 percent of all Google visits and Google News with 1.5 percent. Less than 1 percent of Google visitors use Froogle, Google’s comparison shopping site, according to the Hitwise numbers.

More or Less?

The comScore numbers show a total of 6.6 billion searches conducted in April, a 4 percent jump from the month before, with 2.9 billion of them conducted on Google sites.

Being strong in Web search is the best thing for Google’s bottom line over the short term, given the continued growth of paid search and related advertising. Long-term, however, Google will need to find additional ways to capture and monetize Web traffic.

If nothing else, doing so lessens Google’s dependence on search at a time when it faces more competition from MSN, which launches its own ad platform this summer, and Yahoo, whose Panama upgrade of paid search is also being rolled out.

Additional Web services also help Google find locations for the advertising that marketers want to buy from it, noted Forrester analyst Charlene Li.

Google has the name recognition and positive brand association needed to move aggressively into the portal space, but getting users to become loyalists and adopt a range of services from one provider is not an easy matter, she told the E-Commerce Times.

“Yahoo, AOL and MSN had millions of users before Google came along,” Li said. “Getting them to surrender their accounts, passwords and familiarity with the Web services they have long used will take more than just offering more e-mail storage space. Compelling services will win out in the end, however.”

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