The search market in Europe is set to boom according to latest figures from Nielsen NetRatings. Across Europe, search activity grew by 11 per cent in the past year compared to an overall growth of only four per cent in Internet users as a whole.

According to Nielsen, across Europe in April 2004 there were 110 million Internet users, which has risen to 115 million in a year. In contrast, the number of people using search engines grew from 79 million to 88 million.

France topped the list of biggest searchers with 81 per cent of users being regular searchers closely followed by the UK with 80 per cent. Both countries are now ahead of the US which has a search to user ratio of 79 per cent.

Google is by far the most popular search engine across Europe. According to research figures from Hitwise a whopping 69 per cent of users go to Google.com or .co.uk. Next is MSN with 8.4 per cent, Ask Jeeves also on 8.4 per cent and Yahoo! a surprising fourth at just eight per cent, although Nielsen puts Yahoo! just ahead of Ask Jeeves. The popularity of Google in the UK is even larger than that in the US.

The popularity of MSN is accounted for by the fact that it is the default search on Internet Explorer. MSN searchers are far more likely to use single word searchers or URLs than the users of other search engines. In contrast Ask Jeeves searchers are likely to put in must longer key phrases as it prides itself on being able to understand natural language searches.

While Google is the most popular search engine across Europe including the UK, France Germany, Italy and Spain, among others there are room for local language search engines. For example the second most popular search engine in France is Voila while MSN is in second place elsewhere. A pattern of local players start to emerge further down the rankings with Virgillo in Italy, Eniro in Sweden and search.ch in Switzerland taking third places.

The UK in contrast, as an English speaking country, has no local search engine but relies on US engines.

On the back of the booming search industry, revenues from targeted search advertising is set to almost double. David Graham, MSN's Search Business Manager says that by 2010 search engine marketing revenues in Europe will be 2.7 billion euros, up from 1.4 billion euros in 2005.