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Ranking The Search Engines

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We can each spend so much time concerned with how our website/s are ranking on the Search Engines… Let’s step back for a minute and look at how the Search Engines themselves are ranking. Where are people, our customers, searching? Which Search Engines are delivering the bulk of results? With answers to these questions we can re-focus our efforts to ensure that were not wasting our time trying to gain exposure in the wrong places.

There are two ways we can rank the search engines. The first, is in terms of Popularity; the number of people that are using the search engines to find products, services and information. The second, and perhaps most important factor from a marketing point of view, is Audience Reach; the number of search portals that a Search Engine is showing its results through each day, thereby reaching the maximum number of people.

First, lets look at Popularity. The following search engine popularity figures were compiled by Neilson/NetRatings, a provider of digital audience information and analysis. This company monitors over 225,000 individuals in 26 countries to gather its Internet usage results.

In October 2002, Search Engine Popularity in the U.S. was as follows:

Google 29.2%
Yahoo 28.5%
MSN 28.1%
AOL 19.7%
Ask Jeeves 10.3%
Netscape 5.5%
Overture 5.4%
InfoSpace 5.1%
AltaVista 4.4%
Lycos 4.4%
LookSmart 3.0%
Earthlink 1.8%

(source: Search Engine Watch)

These figures tell us a lot about search engine usage; where people are going to find their information. But what they don’t tell us are more important facts about how widespread each search engine’s listings are across the Internet as a whole.

Let’s look at this from a marketing perspective. Most major search engines have agreements in place with each other and with different search portals to display their results. This means that their Audience Reach is actually much larger or smaller than the Neilson/NetRatings results suggest.

Although actual figures are hard to determine, here’s how the search engines rank from the perspective of Audience Reach:

1. Google
Every web user, in every country, has access to Google’s search results. As well as providing results via its own search pages, Google supplies search results to Yahoo, AOL, Ask Jeeves, Netscape, EarthLink and AT&T. Search services InfoSpace, IWON and Simpatico.ca (Canada) also display their listings. A high ranking listing at Google will return an enormous amount of targeted traffic to your site because of its wide audience reach through partner search sites.

2. Overture (formally GoTo.com)
Overture is a pay-per-click search engine. Its audience reach is also extremely wide. Overture’s top three search results are displayed as the premier listings on Altavista, MSN, Lycos, AllTheWeb(aka FAST), Excite and Go.com. Its results are also displayed on hundreds of smaller search portals. If your goal is to gain maximum exposure within a few days and you are prepared to pay for it, Overture will deliver maximum audience reach.

3. Inktomi
Inktomi is not a search engine as such, but a database comprised of paid listings delivered to its search partners. Inktomi results are usually displayed on each of its partners sites as secondary search results. Its listings are displayed at: MSN, LookSmart, About.com, HotBot, Overture, espotting.com (Europe) Terra.co(Spanish network), goo.ne.jp (Japan)

4. FAST(AllTheWeb)
FAST Search results power the listings at the popular Lycos search portal. Lycos has the largest global footprint of any Internet portal with more than 140 sites in 41 countries through its network of Web sites and partnerships. FAST results are also displayed at Lycos Europe, Ask Jeeves, AllTheWeb, WebCrawler, InfoSpace, Excite, DogPile, MetaCrawler and other international partners.

5. AltaVista
Altavista is a pure search engine. As well as displaying Overture’s results, Altavista maintains 20 International search sites that are locally-optimized in each country to display its results. Submitting to the main Altavista site will include you in all International sites.

6. Open Directory (DMOZ)
While this directory does not even factor in the Neilson/NetRatings results, its audience reach is significant. The Open Directory provides main search results to Netscape Search as well as categorized directory results at AOL, Google, Lycos and HotBot. Google regards a listing in the Open Directory as very significant in terms of its PageRank system, so a listing here will give your site a higher ranking at Google.

7. LookSmart
A listing at LookSmart will enable your site to be dispayed at the very popular MSN – the default search portal of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. Google also regards a LookSmart listing highly in its PageRank system, which will in turn help your site’s ranking at Google.

8. Yahoo
A listing in Yahoo’s directory has become less significant since they began to use Google search results as primary listings. If you rank well on Google, you will rank well at Yahoo and gain the first rate exposure this popular search site provides. Google regards a listing at Yahoo as highly significant in terms of PageRank, so a listing here will in turn help your site’s relevancy with the Google search engine. What you need to decide is: will a directory listing at Yahoo help boost your ranking enough on Google to warrant the $299 annual fee Yahoo charges.

9. Ask Jeeves/Teoma
Ask Jeeves search results are powered by Teoma. While this search portal is popular amongst Internet users, its reach is not that significant. If your aim is to have your site listed on all the major search engines, then this would definitely be one to be listed with, although you may want to focus your efforts on gaining a high ranking on the other more significant search engines above for maximum traffic. Ask Jeeves dispays the top four results from Google’s AdWords and ad results from Lycos in a right hand column format.

What we can construe from the above results is that the majority of Internet search results are delivered by a small minority of search engines through a wide network of partner search portals. When planning your search engine positioning campaign, it is important to consider this. If you begin with the idea of maximum audience reach in mind, your results will return a wider net of targeted traffic.

About the Author

Drew Waters is a search engine positioning specialist, a principal of Search Engine Coach, and author of the detailed & popular e-book “Put Your Web Site on Top of the Search Engines: Tools and Techniques for Top Ranking,” available at:


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