Why email is crucial to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo

EmailGoogle, Microsoft and Yahoo. These three companies rule webmail with Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, the three largest email services on the Internet.

What might escape a lot of people, though, is just how important email services are for the online presence of those companies (yes, even for Google). To give you an idea, let’s look at some rather interesting website traffic numbers.

Webmail share of site traffic

Alexa can give you an estimate of how many people visit various parts of a website, or to be precise, which subdomains are visited the most.

  • Gmail uses the subdomain mail.google.com.
  • Hotmail uses the subdomain mail.live.com.
  • Yahoo Mail uses the subdomain mail.yahoo.com.

And here is the data from Alexa, showing how much of each site’s traffic is made up of webmail.

Google.com subdomain traffic Live.com subdomain traffic Yahoo.com subdomain traffic

In other words:

  • Gmail gets 23% of the traffic to Google.com.
  • Hotmail gets 39% of the traffic to Live.com.
  • Yahoo Mail gets 20% of the traffic to Yahoo.com.

The actual percentages aren’t really all that important here. What’s important to note is that the subdomains used for webmail have a ranking near or at the top for all three companies.

Imagine the hit to their web presence if they didn’t have these webmail services.

Actual user numbers

Once again, we’re going to have to make do with estimates, because there simply is no official, public data on exactly how many users these webmail services have. We’ll turn to a source we’ve found helpful in the past: Google Doubleclick Ad Planner. It provides worldwide traffic estimates for a lot of sites.

According to Doubleclick Ad Planner:

  • Yahoo Mail has 340 million users worldwide.
  • Hotmail has 450 million users worldwide.

Those numbers are monthly unique visitors to mail.yahoo.com and mail.live.com.

Unfortunately, we can’t do the same with Gmail, because it’s one of the sites omitted by Ad Planner (which includes some, but not all, Google services).

However, Gmail is considered to be the third largest webmail service. There are estimates placing it around 200 million users worldwide. So it should be somewhere between that and the 340 million user mark we saw for Yahoo Mail.

It should be said that these are stats from just one source. Others have somewhat different numbers, for example Comscore. What you rarely get to see, though, are worldwide numbers. That’s one of the reasons we really like Doubleclick Ad Planner.

That said, regardless of what source you’re looking at, we are talking about hundreds of millions of email users.

That’s right, email isn’t dead yet

Email has been declared dead several times over the past few years. The truth, however, is that we still depend on it more than most people realize, and there is no replacement in sight.

Google knows this. Microsoft knows this. Yahoo knows this. They know that their email services are still extremely important.

And lets not forget all the intangible benefits they get from having a ton of email users and email traffic pass through their systems:

  • It’s a statistics goldmine.
  • It’s a platform they can keep building on.
  • It’s a platform where they can recruit users to other internal services (like Google tried to do with Buzz, for example).

Now imagine if one of these three companies would somehow lose their webmail service. It would be a disaster for them. There would then be hundreds of millions of users who would turn somewhere else for email.

So if you’re one of those people saying email is dead, you probably don’t work at Google, Microsoft or Yahoo…


  1. Don’t forget that the mail.google.com stats may not tell the whole picture. Most google apps users will customise the access URL they use (eg: mail.companyname.com) – so theres probably a shed load more traffic not being accounted for!

    Great metrics as always guys 🙂

  2. Yeah i laugh when people say Email is dead!!!

    Another very high traffic email system would be Mail.com
    most people don’t know about Mail.com since it is
    fairly newer than the other but its still a huge
    email systems with millions or email users.

    I don’t see it being dead, i just used it like 5 minutes ago and like 10 minutes before that Lol oh yeah and to post this comment 🙂

    I also don’t see a replacement for it. I dunno why people would want to replace email its used for way to much stuff especially for us programmers, If email didn’t exist it would kill off way to may programs and applications or else force them to be upgraded immediately.

  3. Considering the huge importance of email, it’s incredible that many email providers are so behind technologically. There are so many examples of things that should not exist nowadays, such as:

    – mail providers that offer only POP3 and not IMAP
    – mail providers that do not let you send and receive mail via a secure connection
    – mail accounts that can be checked for new mail only once per 15 minutes
    – mail service downtime

    It’s a really sad state of affairs.

  4. You can work out from those figures what the actual number of users per mail service is, but whatever else, we can infer that gmail is bigger than yahoo mail. Their 23% of what google.com’s traffic is more than 20% of yahoo.com’s is.

  5. Mail will be replaced gradually. I think that actually Google Wave showed us clearly what traditional emails lack.
    -Ability to communicate in context – Threaded conversations that keep things in context, develop change, get updated and the changes can be played back.
    -Flawless and seamless integration with (3rd) party extensions in real time.

  6. mail isnt dead for a long shot and wont be for a long long time, simply because it is our main identification online, not everyone has twitter, facebook, site or phone number, but everyone that is online has e-mail and the e-mail is used for pretty much everything, messenger, paypal, identification for just about any site/service ever, try and make an account on 99% of sites without a e-mail, no can do…

    and thats besides the normal useful function of e-mail… thats why e-mail is so important and there isnt anything remotely similar in function…

  7. That second-place showing for mail.live.com is a bit misleading, given what’s in first place (the login page). It really means that mail is virtually the only thing live.com is used for (roughly 90% of the non-login hits).

  8. Mail is utilized by these companies to keep users on board and to increase one’s switching costs. It becomes more costly if I’m on a platform, my friends are on a platform, and I decide to switch to another mail service. This is premised on complementary services tied to an offering such as chat.

    At another level, these mail services are inputs to other offerings. For example, Gmail is simply a service that Google leverages to increase the use and utility of Google Search for both advertisers and users. The more Gmail users implies that Google can sell the value proposition to advertisers such that they will be able to reach users performing searches and users who are active on Gmail.

    Strategically, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are subsidizing their respective mail services to drive revenue on other services that users use by natural extension of being on a given platform.

    Where these services haven’t had real success is increasing one’s multi-homing costs such that anyone can easily and often has an email account across one or more mail providers. Open standards and free email use work against such efforts.

    The demise of mail is exaggerated but over time, the utility we gain will be diminished by other web services and platforms (Twitter, Facebook, text messaging, etc ..) hence, mail use will decline albeit gradually.

  9. Hello! Email for me is more used than ever. I recieve updates from Google, apply for things online, recieve updates from online forums and social networks, email is very helpful to me. Alex

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