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Google tops the search charts

Yahoo and others are gunning for it, but Google easily attracted more Internet users than any other search engine during January, researchers say.

Google started off the year as king of the hill among search engines, even as No. 2 Yahoo gears up to reclaim the throne.

In January, 39 percent of active Internet surfers--or 59.3 million unique viewers--used Google to do searches, while the search tools at Yahoo and MSN attracted approximately 30 percent each, according to data released by Nielsen/NetRatings on Monday. Yahoo had 45.7 million unique users, and MSN, 44.6 million.

Search survey America Online's search tool came in fourth, attracting 15 percent of Net surfers, or 23.4 million unique users. Fifth place went to Ask Jeeves, with 8 percent of surfers, or 12.8 million users. (The percentages add up to more than 100 percent because some people may have used more than one search engine.)

Google has been the longtime front-runner in the search field, but other Internet companies are eager both to take market turf away and to overshadow its technological status. Last week, for instance, Yahoo ended a partnership with Google, switching to its own search technology as part of a larger plan to regain its past glory as the Web's dominant search engine.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has been angling to make a search program called MSNBot the cornerstone of its PC and services strategies.

Overall, 39 percent of Americans, or 114.5 million people, used a search engine during January, Nielsen said. That accounts for about 76 percent of the active online population. Each person spent about 40 minutes using search engines during the month.

During the holiday season, the rankings were essentially the same among consumers trying to find online stores, according to the researchers. Google accounted for 36 percent of the consumer audience, Yahoo took 25 percent, and MSN took 14 percent. Ask Jeeves and AOL Shopping were essentially tied at about 5 percent each.

When conducting a search, people seemed to value relevance over accuracy. In the survey, 52 percent of respondents said that the thing they valued most in a search engine was the ability to find relevant information, while 34 percent said they were looking to get credible results. An even one-third said they wanted to get results quickly. Lesser considerations were the interface's ease of use and whether the search engine has a "cool design."

"Search engines continue to be the primary tool people use to navigate the Web," Jason Levin, an analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings, said in a statement. "With the big search players having recently updated their search capabilities, Internet users should expect to find even better search results from the major search engines in the near future."