Google: Warning Bells Clanging

February 19, 2009

Henry Blodget wrote “Yahoo Search Share Rises Again… And Google Falls” here. The hook for the story is a report from the comScore tracking data that shows Google’s share of the Web search market “dropped a half point to 63%.” Mr. Blodget added quite correctly, “You don’t see that every day.” Mr. Blodget also flags Yahoo’s increase in search share, which jumped to 21%. Yahoo has made gains in share for the last five months. Congratulations to Yahoo.

Several comments:

  1. Data about Web search share is often questionable.
  2. Think back to your first day in statistics. Remember margin of error? When you have questionable data, a narrow gain or loss, and a data gathering system which is based on some pretty interesting data collection methods–what do you get? You get Jello data.
  3. The actual Web log data for outfits like Google and Yahoo often tell the company employees a different story. How different? I was lucky enough last year to see some data that revealed Google’s share of the Web search market north of 80 percent in the US. So which data are correct? The point is that sampled data about Web search usage is wide of the actual data by 10 to 15 percent or more.

Is Google in trouble? Not as much trouble as Yahoo. Assume the data are correct. The spread between Yahoo and Google is about 40 percent. Alarmism boosts traffic more easily than Yahoo can boost its share of the Web search market in my opinion.

Stephen Arnold, February 18, 2009


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