I came across some notes this weekend that got me to thinking.
Site A: A small low dollar, low volume product site with practically identical rankings across the board for years had a tiny monthly revenue stream except for about a 5-fold increase holiday season, November & December each year.
A few years ago due to server downtime it fell out of Google (including Yahoo) for the entire holiday season. Ink/MSN held fast, with no revenue loss or change - including the seasonal burst. Then, about 1-1/2 to 2 years ago, due to a server change and a 301 mess-up the site fell beyond finding with Inktomi/MSN - still fine then at Google, and Yahoo at the time but that loss marked the end of revenue. It's been that way since.
There were always very respectable rankings and good traffic considering the small size and limited focus, and it's still holding firmly at Google/AOL, but apparently, based on comparison when it's been totally absent from one or the other, the conversions came from MSN for that product line - in spite of all the paid pushing the freebie listings down - because with ground firmly held at the others, the loss of MSN marked the end of income.
Site B: Another very small site, really too new last Fall to have much indexed in Ink and partner sites; there was a pretty normal traffic spread percentage-wise for how they were at the time. Florida hit and the site took a dive at Google (definite money words, BTW). Haven't touched it, gotten more links or bothered with it just yet. Doing fine with Yahoo/MSN and has since first getting in, so it isn't a concern and not worth risking much change.
Here's how it looked back in February & March, 2004 for Site-B.
MSN - 49%
Yahoo - 29.6%
Google - 10.8%
AOL - 1.8%
MSN - 48.6%
Yahoo - 39.9%
Google - 4.7%
AOL - 0.5%
Two points. Regardless of who the provider is of the search results, with Google essentially out of the picture it's interesting to note the percentage comparison between Yahoo & MSN.
Further, both of those sites are in markets that would tend to attract virtually 100% a female audience. While there's likely no way we can know for sure the relative demographics of the two, how important MSN may be now and in future when their own search debuts might well depend on the particular market segment being targeted.
My personal intuitive feeling is that while there aren't any reliable objective indicators, based on a number of observations I've made over the years, even though the evidence is anecdotal at best, it might just serve people well to watch every move MS makes with search if they're targeting a largely female, consumer-oriented audience.