November 8, 2004, 12:00 AM

Alternative search engines have far to go to catch giants, Hitwise reports

One in every 14 visits to the Internet by U.S. web users went to the top 10 search engines, a 7% increase from a year ago. By contrast, visitor market share for five alternative engines has remained flat through the year, Hitwise reports.

While a number of smaller search engines have set themselves up as alternatives to search powerhouses such as Google, the concentration of searches is being driven through Google and the other major engines is going up, according to recent findings from web traffic monitoring firm Hitwise. For the week ending Oct. 30, one in every fourteen visits to the Internet by U.S. web users went to the top 10 search engines, a 7% increase from the same period a year ago, Hitwise reports.

“This increasing concentration of traffic among the top search engines, particularly Google and Yahoo Search, is indicative of the brand equity they’ve built over the years,” says Bill Tancer, vice president of research at Hitwise.

Collectively, five alternative search engines – Vivisimo.com, Clusty.com, a9.com, Alltheweb.com and Snap.com – claimed only one-tenth of a percent of total visits to search engines and directories during that week, Hitwise found. Visitor market share has been flat for these engines during the year, with each ranking below 75 in market share. The exception is Amazon’com’s a9.com. It engine first appeared in Hitwise’s search engine results in April, and its market share has soared by 1,150% since then.

The alternative search engines tended to deliver a lower percentage of their traffic to shopping sites than did the major engines, which indicates lower levels of paid search, according to Hitwise. For of the five alternative engiens each delivered 7% to 8% of their traffic to shopping and classified ad sites during the week tracked, while Google, Yahoo Search and MSN Search each delivered about 10% of their traffic to such sites. Search engines a9.com by contrast sent 18% of its overall traffic to shopping and classified sites, influenced by its affiliation with Amazon.com, according to Hitwise.

“The market share of these search sites might be small, but it’s important to note that Google itself was in such a position not too many years ago,” says Tancer. “The challenge for smaller players that want to become mainstream search portals is to gain mindshare and ultimately deliver the most relevant search results.”

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