April’s comScore search numbers were released tonight.
At first glance, Yahoo appears to be the big winner at Google’s expense. But that’s mostly because of a new “slideshow” addition to Yahoo’s user interface that automatically creates a bunch of search queries when linking pictures together — hardly the same as an intentional search.
It’s basically putting Yahoo’s search share on stilts, which doesn’t do ANYTHING to improve the intentional searches Yahoo users are performing.
Excluding the changes, Google gained share, while Yahoo and Microsoft both lost a bit of share, according to JPMorgan’s Imran Khan:
- Significant user interface changes cloud the picture. According to comScore, there were notable changes at Google, Yahoo!, and MSN in April, meaning numbers may not be directly comparable to past months. On a reported basis, Google lost ~70 bps of search share in April vs. March, while Yahoo! was the main beneficiary, up ~80 bps. Excluding the impact of all adjustments, Google gained ~50 bps of share, Yahoo! was down ~25 bps, and Microsoft dropped by ~20 bps. We think additional months of data under the new methodology could help clarify matters.
- Understanding the changes. At Yahoo! and Microsoft, the sites operate with new interfaces that tie content together with relevant searches; essentially, navigation is now more likely to occur via a series of searches, which are counted by comScore and contribute to search share. Yahoo! also benefited from better data collection at Yahoo! Finance.
- According to the data, total US core search volume increased 5.3% Y/Y in April, a deceleration from 7.6% growth in March. However, adjusting for the impact of user interface changes, we estimate that search volume was up ~3% Y/Y. The April growth level was also below 1Q’s 10.1% Y/Y growth.
- Without adjustments, Google domestic core search market share was 64.4% in April, down slightly from 65.1% in March. Google domestic core search volume growth of 5.6% Y/Y in April was below March’s 10.1% growth, as well as 1Q’s 13.6% growth.
- Unadjusted, Yahoo! domestic core search market share increased to 17.7% in April from 16.9% in March. Yahoo! April core search volume decreased 8.5%, an improvement from March’s 11.4% decline, and 1Q’s 10.0% decline.
- Unadjusted, Microsoft sites domestic core search market share increased slightly to 11.8% in April from 11.7% in March. Microsoft sites grew April core search volume by 51.4%, in line with 51.3% growth in March, and 52.0% growth in 1Q.
More explanation and analysis from Broadpoint AmTech’s Ben Schachter:
- “YHOO’s reported April search volume reflects a significant benefit of ~158mm incremental queries related to a new slideshow feature that the company rolled out to Yahoo News last month. As users scroll through images, they actually generate a “search” that is tracked and counted by comScore. If we back out those ~158mm queries (and make no other adjustments to the reported figures for the other search properties), we estimate YHOO’s April share was closer to 16.9% or flat vs. March.”
- “YHOO has been working with comScore over the course of April (and even late March) to ensure that comScore is counting these “slide-show” actions as incremental queries. This will likely continue to benefit YHOO’s numbers going forward, and also likely explains why YHOO has been so confident in saying that the March quarter would be its bottom in terms of share. “
- “Bing’s reported query volumes were also impacted by its use of “slide-show” type image searches across its Autos, Health, and Real Estate categories in April.”
- “The bottom line is that while the headline number shows YHOO gaining ~80 bps of share, adjusting the numbers for definitional changes show YHOO’s share flat vs. March. YHOO’s management promised that they would show share gains according to comScore and they were correct about that, however, we think most investors will look through the reported number and conclude that YHOO’s is probably just maintaining share of what really counts: monetizable searches. Unfortunately, these kinds of methodology/definitional changes also highlight the problems with relying on comScore in the first place. It is easy to make adjustments for April (based on the numbers provided), but understanding the baseline of comScore’s “core” search is less clear. At the end of the day, YHOO can point to gaining share according to comScore, but investors will likely only give them credit for stabilizing share. Given YHOO’s declines over the past 14-15 months, maintaining share is a win, but we don’t think many will think that YHOO’s search share problems are now solved. Notably, the comScore data itself will be less relevant as a gauge of monetizable search share going forward”