Search Engine Market in the UK

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Google dominates the UK search market. Surprised? Unlikely. According to Hitwise, Google held 79.38% of the British search market in April 2007 – not leaving much room for anyone else. And while Ask is pretty close behind MSN in current market share, the UK does not have a “big three” as the US does: we have Google and “another three.”

The Hitwise study of April 2007 showed the search engine market share in the UK divided as follows:

  • Google  79.38%
  • Yahoo    7.72%
  • Microsoft 5.28%
  • Ask         4.87%
  • Other          2.75%

Within the “other” category, Mirago is worth mentioning. Mirago is a UK-based search engine with spider and PPC technology all their own. In fact, Mirago claims to have been the first search engine to offer native day parting of ads. Despite this, Mirago only accounts for a portion of the 2.75% market share enjoyed by the “other search engines.”

AOL, on the other hand, is perhaps notable for its absence. The ISP has a much smaller profile in the UK than in the US – so much so it may surprise you to know that AOL UK is actually owned by Carphone Warehouse. Carphone Warehouse has grown from initially selling – surprise – car phones to become Britain’s third biggest ISP.

Most searchers in the UK search via www.google.co.uk (and users who type in www.google.com are automatically redirected to www.google.co.uk unless they have previously indicated they would rather search the .com site). Google UK offers two options for search: “the web” and “pages from the UK.” Most users don’t select the “pages from the UK” option, and are happy to leave “the web” selected as the default setting. However, ISP portal home pages, which are often set as default home pages by broadband installation kits or bundle deals, are often powered by Google – and some of these portals automatically select “pages from the UK.”

In 2004, a comScore speaker told a Search Engine Strategies London audience that up to 70% of Europeans will select one of the language-specific radio button refinements. That figure, however, represents searchers in mainland Europe electing to search “pages in French” or “pages in German.” Google’s users in the United Kingdom appear more confident that the search engine won’t inappropriately drive them, for example, to Irish (English language) sites.

On the other hand, there is no UK-only Yahoo! The web address of uk.yahoo.com takes users to a portal page called “Yahoo UK & Ireland.” There aren’t many companies the size of Yahoo! who still bundle the UK and Ireland together, as they are very separate countries with different search needs. The uk.yahoo.com address, however, does have a “UK only” search option. The “Ireland only” ie.yahoo.com address shows a portal with the same news headlines – including a “UK news” tab, but the search box adapts to offer an “Ireland only” option.

Privacy – A Growing Political Issue

Privacy is a large and growing issue in the United Kingdom. In fact, privacy has become a political issue, as politicians debate whether or not the UK should introduce identity cards for the populace. Big media enjoys bringing privacy issues to the spotlight.

In the first half of 2007, bigmouthmedia commissioned a survey to investigate the level of understanding the average UK searcher has on search engine behavior. Among the results (exclusive to this Search Marketing Standard magazine article):

  • Over 1,000 searchers in the UK were asked, “Did you know that many search engines record what you search for?”
  • 62% of UK searchers said they did know search engines record search queries, while 38% indicated they did not.
  • 70% of men surveyed said they knew many search engines recorded what they searched for, but only 54% of women did – a striking difference between the sexes.

Search Engine Marketing in the UK

Search marketing is strong in the United Kingdom. An E-consultancy survey carried out in April 2007 on UK search marketing revealed that 87% of marketers had paid to advertise on Google. That compares to 45% who had paid to advertise on Yahoo!, 33% for MSN, 11% for MIVA, and 6% for Ask.com.

E-consultancy also found that about 50% of sites ran either their SEO or PPC campaigns in house. Of sites which outsourced their search marketing (or were seeking to outsource), 17% of marketers were looking for assistance on their SEO and 12% said they needed help with PPC. It was also the case that 12% of sites with a search marketing budget in excess of £150 million (~US $300 million) ran their search marketing through an agency.

The Growth of the Mobile Web

Mobile usage is strong in the UK. The British public use the term “mobile phones” rather than “cell phones” and have been deeply engaged in SMS/text messaging for years. The Mobile Data Association charted 30 million SMS text messages in June 2001 – a figure which had increased to 45 million in June 2002. The 4 billion text-messages-per-month barrier was passed for the first time in December 2006 – and the total continues to rise. The UK’s population is about 61 million.

Google’s unofficial mobile headquarters is often said to be their Belgrave House building on Buckingham Palace Road. As a result of this, perhaps, new mobile technologies tend to arrive a little more quickly in the UK than other offerings. As a rule, Google and Yahoo! release UK versions or features about 9 to 12 months after a US launch. Google Base, for example, came to the UK about 8 months after its debut in the US. Mobile applications, such as Google Maps for Mobile, tend to arrive in the UK about 3 to 6 months after appearing in the US. Germany usually follows the United Kingdom in this respect.

Google Forever?

The UK search marketplace is dominated by Google; but despite this, it is rich and competitive. There are countless SEO and PPC specialists, many search marketing agencies, and an increasing number of digital marketing agencies who are trying to offer search services. With the ever-expanding realm of such services and capabilities, it seems there’s only one way for the UK search market to go – and it’s not down.

About the Author

Andrew, Head of Search at bigmouthmedia, is responsible for the continued development of the agency's ground-breaking search marketing service for major clients. A true digital marketing devotee, and with several industry awards to his name, what Andrew doesn't know about search isn't worth knowing. "USA@bigmouthmedia.com"

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