Search Engine Click-Throughs Not Linked to Audience Size

Jeff Berg
LONDON — A new study released Thursday indicates that total search engine click-through rates are not proportional to the audience size of the search engine.

Conventional wisdom had suggested that the amount of click-throughs obtained by a website using search engine advertising were directly linked to the search engine’s user base, but new research conducted by Nielsen//NetRatings suggests that this might not be the case.

The Internet analysts examined the number of click-throughs per search engine user and then ranked each engine based on the number of average click-throughs and the number of audiences, with odd results.

“The research shows that when it comes to placing keywords on search engines, a bigger audience is not always better,” said Tim Roe, head of the data analytics department at NetRatings. “Understanding that the small search engines can be as successful as some of the larger ones in generating click-throughs can help companies to improve their return on investment, and make their promotional spending go further.”

According to the study, while the conventional wisdom bares out for both Google and Yahoo, ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in both unique searchers and average click-through rate, the two sets of ranks drastically diverged beginning at third place.

Ask Jeeves is ranked as having the third highest audience out of the search engines, for example, but only averages 4.5 click-throughs per users, making it ninth. Instead, Altavista, ranked 15th in terms of audience size, took third place with roughly 13.6 click-throughs per user.

Tiscali, ranked 12th in terms of its user base, garners 7.8 click-throughs per user, placing it in fourth place. Conversely, MSN Search, ranked fourth in terms of size, only pulls in 5.5 click-throughs per search, making it tied for sixth place with Wanadoo.

“There are many factors that influence the success of a search engine,” Roe said. “As with other forms of advertising, companies cannot rely solely on the size of the audience to a particular search engine as a guarantee of attracting the right target audience to their website, product or service.”