Google has beaten arch rivals to once again notch top slot in the search engines’ category.

As per the Nielsen/NetRatings report Google has been voted the world s most popular search engine, with 48.5 percent of all searches conducted in the US in February 2006 having been carried out on Google.

Lagging behind Google are Yahoo that managed 22.5 per cent of online searches, while MSN took-up 10.7 percent of the total online search share. AOL and My Way Search rounded out the top five search providers with 6.6 and 2.7 percent of searches, respectively.

Search share among these five providers has remained relatively flat since January 2006, with all providers gaining or losing less than one percentage point only.

Meanwhile rival comScore Media Matrix has reported that Google’s share of the search market increased by 6 percent this year, to reach 42.3 percent of total search in February 2006. Yahoo’s share according to Media Matrix fell to 27.6 percent from the 31.1 percent a year ago, while MSN dropped down to 13.5 percent from the earlier 16.3 percent.

Michael Lanz, vice president – search industry solutions, Nielsen/NetRatings, said that the numbers of people searching had stayed the same, although they seemed to be searching more and more.

The total number of searches were found to have increased by 38 per cent, from 3.8 billion in February 2005 to 5.3 billion in February 2006.

Lanz sees search usage intensity increasing, not only in the number of searches done per person for general web content, but also for searches initiated specifically for photos and graphics, as well as for comparison of shopping information.

According to Web Analytics, this growth is due in large part to an increased number of searches per person, particularly in the image search and shopping search categories.

Google was found to be holding a comfortable lead in image search as well. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, 71.9 percent of image search was conducted through Google. However in terms of market share, Google lost 4.4 percent if compared to February 2005.

Yahoo was able to raise its image search share from 13.9 percent to 19.1 percent. Ask.com climbed from 1.5 percent to 3.5 percent, and AOL gained 1.0 percent to 1.4 percent. MSN’s image search was listed unchanged at 2.3 percent.

The increase in image searches is attributed to the growing number of broadband households, and the rising popularity of social-networking sites.

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