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As mobile rises, desktop search declines for the first time

Analysts at the Macquarie Group say mobile devices could account for a third of all search traffic by year's end.


In a sign of the mobile-centric times, desktop Web search declined in September for the first time since Macquarie Group began tracking it in 2006.

ComScore data for September showed that searches declined 4 percent year over year, according to a note Macquarie sent to clients. Growth rates in search have been slowing since February, when searches were up 14 percent. The increasing number of mobile searches appears to be the biggest reason for the decline, Macquarie analysts said in their report.

The decline in desktop search makes intuitive sense. These days, we're less likely to search for a destination on a map site before leaving the house; that's what turn-by-turn directions are for. We might not even search for a restaurant to eat at until we're out the door; a number of apps can give us recommendations on the go. And nontraditional search engines are on the rise: we might search for clothes on instead of Google, or airfares on Hipmunk, or a friend's e-mail address on Facebook.

Collectively, all those trends point to a long, slow decline for traditional desktop search. And it's a reason why companies like Google and Microsoft are investing heavily in mobile search applications.

Consumers are warming to mobile search. By the end of the year, almost a third of Internet search traffic will come from smartphones and tablets, Macquarie said. In some categories, such as restaurant search, mobile already accounts for that share of search. And in several categories important to advertisers -- electronics, beauty, finance, and autos -- mobile searches are rapidly climbing, Macquarie said.

Google remained the No. 1 search engine in September, claiming 66.7 percent market share. Microsoft's Bing hit an all-time high of 15.9 percent share, and has either grown or retained its share for 29 consecutive months, Macquarie said. It is the second-biggest search portal. The big loser on the month was No. 3 Yahoo, where searches were down 25 percent on the year. Its market share has declined 3.2 percent in the last year, to 12.2 percent.

"Most importantly, and unfortunately for YHOO, we see no obvious structural bottom for YHOO's search share," the analysts said. "This is a significant problem in our view given the fact that search is a very high-margin business for YHOO."