Yahoo tops Google in quality of searches, study says

While Google dominates the search query business, results generated by Yahoo's search engine result in more user clicks than the market leader, according to a study released this week by Compete Inc.

The survey found that 67 percent of the 7.5 billion monthly searches done by the U.S. online population in August were done using Google, only 65 percent of those prompted a user to click on a result, according to Compete, which monitors and measures Internet traffic.

Yahoo logged 20 percent of all searches in August, 75 percent of which led to referrals. Yahoo posted the best referral result among search engine vendors, the survey found. The survey ranked Microsoft's MSN Live engine third, with 9 percent of the search market. About 59 percent of MSN Live queries generate referrals, the study found.

"Lower search fulfillment numbers mean that on a percentage basis, fewer search queries in that engine resulted in the searcher clicking on a result link," said Jeremy Crane, Compete's director of search and online media in a blog post. "So from this perspective, one might consider Yahoo more effective at getting consumers the results they want."

However, he noted that the "devil is in the details" when using referrals to measure search quality.

For example, Matt Cutts, head of Google's Webspam team, said on Compete's blog that sometimes searchers get answers from the snippets that appear on the results page. Cutts noted that for a query about the number of ounces in a shot glass, Google's results don't require users to click on a link.

"On Yahoo, you don't get any OneBox answer, and the snippets are unclear," Cutts wrote. "You need to click on a result or two to find the answer."

Crane agreed, blogging that "the devil is in the details, and the story is much more complicated than that, but it's always interesting to look at something from a new angle. People using search engines to find the information they are looking for as opposed to using the engine as a navigation tools definitely complicate this rather simple cut of the data I did here."

However, he added, from an online marketing standpoint, "getting people to your site is a critical measure of search engine effectiveness. In this world, the most important thing to look at is actual conversion on the site."

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Heather Havenstein

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