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January 14, 2009 5:23 PM

Microsoft says unique Internet search users up by 'several million' as Nielsen reports its total queries declined

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

A review of tracking firm Nielsen Online's Internet search market share figures for the past three months shows a troubling trend for Microsoft. The company has seen double-digit declines in the number of searches performed on its search engine. December figures, released today, show a 15.5 percent decline in U.S. search queries conducted on Live Search, since December 2008. Total queries increased 19.6 percent in the same period. Nielsen says Microsoft had 9.8 percent of the U.S. market, compared with Google's 62.9 percent and Yahoo's 16.8. (See Nielsen's report here: PDF.)

Whitney Burk, a spokeswoman with Live Search, said Microsoft's own data paints a brighter picture.

"It's true there's been a decline in share, however our internal numbers indicate that from a unique user perspective, we've actually grown by several million" unique users, year over year, she said in an e-mail.

"It's just that the market has grown faster than we have," Burk continued. "While we watch all the external reporting agency numbers diligently, there continues to be a lot of volatility in share numbers month to month. We're watching our own internal data and feel good about the direction those numbers are heading, specifically around [unique users] as an indicator of new people coming to Live Search and liking what they see when they get there."

[Update, 9:42 p.m.: Burk clarified what portion of the market she was referring to in another e-mail: "We are seeing growth in unique users. ... While we are seeing a decline in unique queries internally as well, the decline is not as significant as the Nielsen numbers suggest. We don't disclose the internal data for competitive reasons, but from our comparisons with other reporting agencies, Nielsen numbers are typically the most volatile."

Also, I've added the following table, which illustrates what she's talking about.

Nielsen December.JPG

Finally, I corrected the spelling of Burk's name.]

In November, according to Nielsen, Live Search queries decreased 16.7 percent, year over year, while total queries increased 6.7 percent.

In October, Live Search was off 19 percent, while the total also decreased by 2 percent.

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