The Search Market in the “Bel Paese” – Italy

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The Italian Internet audience is the ninth largest in the world. Italy has 28 million internet users (49% of the population) and 11 million of them are heavy users (defined as accessing the Internet at least once every day). The number of internet users has grown by 133% since May of 2006. According to Nextplora, by 2010, 90 % of the country will be reachable by broadband. E-commerce in the “Bel Paese” is growing very fast, partly due to a comfort level with online purchasing, mostly thanks to the new “top-up” credit cards, such as PostePay, that some banks have created specifically for this use.

The Italian Online Search Market

The search engine market scenario in Italy is quite similar to the rest of Europe, with Google dominating. There are two big local search engines – both of which are enhanced with Google results: Alice Search and Arianna (Libero). Neither of these two search engines have a proprietary pay-per-click advertising system (both use the Google AdWords network), but it is important to appear in the natural search results of these two Italian-based search engines.

Putting some actual numbers on these “pieces of the pie,” we find that In March, Google had an market share of 53.4%. Alice Search follows as a distant second, with 13.3%. Microsoft and Yahoo! Search are quite far behind in Italy as compared to other countries, with 11.2% and 9.6% of the market respectively. It is Interesting to see Microsoft performing slightly stronger than Yahoo! Search. Not far behind Yahoo! Search, we find Libero Ricerca with 9.1%.

Two other search engines in Italy worth mentioning are: AltaVista (2.42 % of March’s visitors) and Tiscali Search (1.78 %). Ask.com has an Italian version, whose reach is  expanding, but it still lags behind the others.

Demographics

According to Nextplora, In Italy, 76 % of those online use search engines to help decide whether or not to purchase a product. They find and compare prices and shops online using Google and other search engines and then decide whether to purchase in online or offline shops.

96 % of Italian users think that search engines are the best way to find what they are looking for online. Many Italians rely directly on search engines for access to the web. More than 45 % admit to usually typing the URL directly into their default search engine to log into a site.

A number of other recent studies by Nextplora have shown that Italians do not appear to be big fans of sponsored results. In fact, Italians appear to prefer to search through natural results. At least 17 % of users have stated that they never click on sponsored results and rarely even look at them because of past experiences with poor-quality sites dominating the sponsored results. More positively, 58.5 % of users do use sponsored results for commercial searches of a business-to-business nature.

A huge challenge for those wishing to develop pay-per-click advertising as a growth industry in Italy is that many companies currently using PPC for e-commerce may not be crafting their ads appropriately. More seriously, they may not be providing the best customer experience possible on their sites to convert those who do choose to click on their ads. In fact, 62 % of customers who have used search engines to buy say that sponsored links do not help them much in their purchase decisions. Italian advertisers need to consider these issues carefully if they want to turn this situation around.

If you are thinking about pursuing a PPC campaign on Italian search engines, and planning to target a specific gender or an age group, here is a demographic breakdown of those online:

It is very interesting to see that from age 14 to 24, women are more likely to be online than men are. After the age of 25, however, men become an increasingly larger proportion of those online. The proportion of women online drops about 10% with each passing decade after the age of 25. Patterns such as these are important to consider if you plan to pursue any type of Internet marketing and search marketing in Italy.

All indications are that e-commerce in Italy will grow very fast in the next five years, opening up a lot of opportunities for those thinking about expanding into this market. There is room for a lot of improvement in current sponsored listings in Italian search engines and plenty of opportunities for additional players.

About the Author

Simone Luciani works as a freelance SEM specialist for eBay's site kijiji. Simone also runs an SEM blog at www.rankfirst.info/dblog (Italian) and co-owns the Internet 3C agency in London (www.internet-3C.com).

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