Year End Lists and the Stories They Tell

I was just putting a Search Insider column in the can for next week (it will run next Thursday) about the year end lists that are coming out of the various search engines and it brought up a few observations, together with a story that hit my desk about Google capturing 63% of searches.

First of all, the top ten lists. Here are the reported lists from each of the engines

Google Yahoo Microsoft
  1. Bebo
  2. Myspace
  3. World Cup
  4. Metacafe
  5. Radioblog
  6. Wikipedia
  7. Video
  8. Rebelde
  9. Mininova
  10. Wiki
  1. Britney Spears
  2. WWE
  3. Shakira
  4. Jessica Simpson
  5. Paris Hilton
  6. American Idol
  7. Beyonce Knowles
  8. Chris Brown
  9. Pamela Anderson
  10. Lindsay Lohan
  1. Ronaldinho
  2. Shakira
  3. Paris Hilton
  4. Britney Spears
  5. Harry Potter
  6. Eminem
  7. Pamela Anderson
  8. Hilary Duff
  9. Rebelde
  10. Angelina Jolie

First of all, I say reported because these aren’t actually the real top searches. Danny Sullivan had a good post pointing out the inconsistencies. These are filtered, sanitized and in Google’s case, apparently manipulated. The same could be true for the others, but unfortunately, they haven’t provided a tool like Google Trends that we can use to trip them up.

Be that as it may, it’s the comparison between them that holds the story that I touched on in the column, but would like to explore in greater depth.

Look at Google’s list. It’s obvious that people are using Google to interact with the web. They’re using it like a tool, to get to where they’re going. This becomes more apparent when we add the real top searches, the navigational queries that were filtered from the list.

googletrendsnav

People use Google to get to Yahoo, MSN..and even Google (okay, I’m still trying to figure that one out).

Look at Yahoo and Microsoft’s list. It’s the online equivalent of the trash tabloid section of the local magazine rack. These aren’t essential searches, these are fluff. It’s the searching you would do if you had time to kill. It’s the searching you would do if you had nothing better to do. It’s the searching you would do if you weren’t using Google for something useful.

I’m sure part of this comes from Yahoo and Microsoft’s portal roots. It speaks to a different philosophy towards search. Google aims to be the Web’s Swiss Army knife. It appears that Yahoo and Microsoft aspire to be the Entertainment Tonight of the Internet. When it comes to the Internet, Google is infrastructure, Yahoo and Microsoft are superstructure.

And that’s a fundamental issue for Yahoo and Microsoft. To win, or even hold their own in search, they have to offer tool-like utility. They have to live, breath and eat usability. They have to beat Google at Google’s own game. It’s not an easy task, and it’s getting harder every day. The latest numbers from Hitwise show they’re losing ground, not gaining it. According to the just released report, Google has a 62.79% share of searches for the 4 week period ending Dec. 16, compared to 21.9% for Yahoo and 9.28% for Microsoft. The number has been consistently trending up for Google, and trending down for the competition.

One last thing. Yahoo can say they focus on usability, but take a tour of the interface they put on their top 10. This would be enough to make Jakob Nielsen go postal. It’s one of the most irritating interfaces I’ve run into in a long time. It’s completely in Flash, launches with an irritating video clip, and makes you hunt around for the plain HTML version. I just know somewhere in Sunnyvale, there’s a team patting each other on the back for putting this thing together.

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