March 30, 2004 11:00 AM PST

Google gets the glory in search referrals

A new ranking shows that Google continues to be on top of the search charts, ahead of rivals Yahoo and MSN.

In a snapshot of search engine use on the Internet, market researcher WebSideStory on Tuesday said Google this month recorded an all-time high in search referrals in the United States. On March 23, it accounted for 41 percent of all referrals, up from 36 percent for a similar day in March 2003.

Yahoo took second place at 27 percent, down from 31 percent a year earlier, while Microsoft's MSN placed third at just under 20 percent, up slightly from the earlier recording period. The Yahoo figures, however, do not include referrals from the Overture Services network, which Yahoo now owns.

Search referral is a term used to describe the visitor traffic that a search site sends to other Web sites. This can include referrals resulting from paid keywords, unpaid search results and banner ads on the search site. WebSideStory said its survey sampled 25 million unique browsers on March 23 and that the one-day results are indicative of search activity for the entire month.

"The main thrust is that the gap is widening" between Google and Yahoo, said Geoff Johnston, an analyst at WebSideStory. "Yahoo's given up market share, but Google isn't the only one stealing it. MSN is also making a move--they aren't shrinking."

Johnston added that the picture is even brighter for Google in some countries in Europe and Asia, where the company has as much as twice the market share that it has in the United States.

The WebSideStory figures are only the latest to confirm Google's leading status in the search field. Nielsen/NetRatings reported earlier this year that in January, 39 percent of active Internet surfers--or 59.3 million unique viewers--used Google to do searches, while Yahoo and MSN attracted approximately 30 percent each.

The market researcher said that three years ago, Yahoo had a U.S. search referral ranking of 37 percent, while Google came in at only 12 percent, behind MSN's nearly 15 percent.

But Google's rivals aren't sitting still. Yahoo last week said it will spend about $575 million to acquire European e-commerce site Kelkoo, its fourth major acquisition in a year and a half. Microsoft, meanwhile, has aggressive plans for new search-related services.

And Google itself is busy tinkering with its set of products and services.

CNET News.com's Jonathan Skillings contributed to this report.

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