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And Yahoo beats all three of them. In fact, the word Yahoo apparently is the undefeated heavyweight champ of Google search terms - search terms, not search engines - according to no less an authority than a new feature from Google called Google Trends. The acronym MSN kicks butt, too, so much so that the term oddly outranks the name of a little company called Microsoft.
All of which leads me to conclude that there is either a screw loose in Google Trends or a logical explanation for these unexpected results that has eluded me so far. Google's answer below leaves me unsatisfied, but perhaps you'll judge it differently.
Google has a hard time persuading me that more people intentionally use Google to search on the search-engine names Yahoo and Google than on any other common word or moniker. Go ahead and give it a shot at www.google.com/trends. I'll even save you the time of trying these words vs. the words Yahoo or Google:
Care to start with names and events in the news? The words Yahoo and Google garner more search queries than the words Bush, Cheney, Iraq, war, Britney Spears, American Idol or Cruise - the latter even though Google Trends acknowledges it cannot differentiate between requests for an actor, a missile or a floating buffet.
Common words and terms? Yahoo and Google each blows away mortgage, food, beer, weight, clothes, oil, car, gas prices, phone, cancer, heart, AIDS, love and marriage.
Maybe something from our sports-obsessed culture? That would be tough luck for Tiger Woods, golf, baseball, soccer, basketball and football.
How about business? It's not worth listing all the less-than-worthies: IBM, AOL and Wal-Mart. As noted earlier, the word Yahoo has croaked the word Microsoft uninterrupted since 2003 - the earliest data provided. But Microsoft stayed neck and neck with Google through 2004 - today it's no contest. (Curiously, the word MySpace looks to be gaining ground on both the search giants at a rather rapid clip, though one of the limitations of Google Trends is that you don't get detail on the raw numbers.)
Religion? Say a prayer for the words church, bible, pope, god, Jesus Christ and Islam, because not one can hold a novena candle to the search-engine names in terms of worldwide search popularity, according to Google Trends.
So what does Google have to say?
"I don't think there's anything specific about search-engine queries that would skew the results. However, one thing to keep in mind is that every part of a search query is counted in Google Trends results," says company spokeswoman Sonya Boralv. "For example, searches for Google, Google Video, and Google Maps would all count toward results for Google. This fact may help account for results for popular terms such as search engines."
Maybe a little, but nowhere near enough. Here's another way to phrase what Google is asking us to accept:
The number of Google searches for the word Yahoo plus all the phrases and strings that contain the word Yahoo exceed the number of Google searches for the word sex plus all the phrases and strings that contain the word sex. (Not to mention Google and all the phrases and strings that contain the word Google.)