Hit-and-Miss at Google

Internet Hit-and-Miss at Google By Jonathan Berr TheStreet.com Senior Writer


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Many Google users aren't bothering to check out some of the company's newest and most-hyped features.

Google Calendar, Google Finance and Google Talk each account for less than one half of 1% of the traffic to the Google network of Web sites, according to a review of the top 20 Google domains by the market research firm Hitwise.

Google Calendar was introduced last month, and Google Finance debuted in March. The company introduced Google Talk, an instant-messaging platform, last year. Hitwise did its analysis during the week ending May 13.

Not surprisingly, even with all the new Google products out there, Hitwise found the most popular feature on Google is still search. It accounts for 80% of the company's traffic. Google has become synonymous with Internet search, mostly through word of mouth, also known as viral marketing.

"Google has to realize that viral marketing happens to only a handful of companies or products and cannot be relied on," says Garrett Rogers, who writes the Googling Google blog. "Just because Google search got very lucky with its rapid adoption rate in the past doesn't mean its other services will."

Nonetheless, the product announcements outside of search show no signs of letting up. Google says it isn't worried about their slow adoption.

"We've been very happy with how Google Calendar and other products have been received by users, and we continue to work to make them better based on the feedback we receive from those users," a Google spokeswoman says.

In any case, Google is trying to leverage its supremacy in search into other areas dominated by Microsoft, Yahoo! and other rivals.

This year, Wall Street has been buzzing about the growing competition faced by the company. Google's shares have dropped 10% -- they fell $2.02 Friday to $368.97 -- though Yahoo! and Microsoft are both off more. Of course, Google's stock has more than quadrupled off its August 2004 initial public offering level.

Google's shares aren't going to move to the $500 level Wall Street analysts target unless the company can find a way to top itself. The Hitwise data illustrate that any upside surprise probably isn't going to come from outside Google's core search business.

Less than 1% of traffic on Google went to Google Maps, the Froogle shopping site and Google Video Search. Google Base, the free listing service that some analysts say is a potential threat to eBay (EBAY:Nasdaq) , didn't make the top 20 list, Hitwise says.

Expectations about the performance of Google Finance may have been overblown. Hitwise estimates that Yahoo! Finance got the most traffic of any financial news site during the study period, while Google Finance ranked 39th.

"It seems like the primary way people are getting there is searching for stock symbols," says Bill Tancer, Hitwise's general manager of global research of Google Finance. "It does not have the customizeable functionality that you have in Yahoo! Finance."

To be sure, plenty of people continue to flock to Google. Unique visitors to the company's network of sites rose 38% to 105.8 million in April, according to comScore Networks. Google also continues to have a stranglehold on the search market that shows no signs of weakening.

In fact, Google emphasized its commitment to search during its recent open house for members of the press and industry analysts. The company also told the crowd that an internal audit found that its employees weren't meeting their requirements to devote 70% of their time to search.

If Google is slacking off in search, its competitors don't seem to be benefiting. Google once again gained market share in April, while rivals such as Yahoo! and MSN lost it, according to comScore. However, Yahoo! has questioned comScore's claims that it is losing market share.

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