Are the Bing numbers telling the story?

images_charts-down-up The latest US search market share numbers from comScore, Hitwise, and Nielsen are out, and depending on who you believe, Bing is either up slightly, or down slightly, Yahoo! continues a downward trend, and Google just keeps on truckin’.

However, as a post on ReadWriteWeb points out, the raw search market share numbers may not be telling the whole story.  RWW points to some more Hitwise numbers that gauge “customer satisfaction” of search engines, by logging the percentage of time a user clicks out of a search engine for another page (presumably because they’ve found what they’re looking for).  But RWW asks, does that describe what happens on Bing?:

It is important to remember that Microsoft’s strategy with Bing, however, is to give users more info on the site so that searchers don’t even have to leave Because of this, the Bing team probably wants to keep the success rate rather low. It would be interesting to see how many of the searches on Bing that Hitwise would qualify as unsuccessful were actually due to the fact that the user got the answer to a query right on the site.

Another indicator for Bing, but not one shown in the raw search market share charts, is click-through rates.  TechCrunch pointed out last summer that Bing has been doing well, there, too, but postulates as to why:

But a more likely explanation is that Google represents the vast bulk of the traffic, 83 percent to be exact. Bing only represents 8 percent. There is a law of large numbers at work here. The more traffic that comes from any one source (i.e., Google), the lower the clickthrough rate is likely to trend. If the market share was reversed, Bing would undoubtedly have a lower clickthrough rate.

It’s important to remember with the way Bing has been positioned that it may never “catch Google” in terms of raw market share, but that may be just fine.  Like many other industries, search engines have a “long tail” when it comes to revenue, and Bing has clearly concentrated on capturing the searches that make the most money.  Health, travel, shopping, and local are where the money is, and there’s at least anecdotal evidence that consumers, while continuing to stick with Google for research and/or web navigation, are turning to Bing when they want to shop, and that’s the whole idea.

Does this mean that the search market share stats aren’t relevant? No, probably not, and certainly Bing has a long way to go, even with Yahoo!’s share added in.  However, we’re not seeing the numbers (increases in revenue, advertiser buy-in, percentage of purchases made after a search, etc) that would help to tell the whole story, and raw search market share percentages may never do that.