Stop Press 2: Hitwise Data Shows Google News UK Unbiased

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008, I reported that Google News UK has edged past Yahoo News UK & Ireland in total unique visitors for December 2007, according to the latest data from comScore World Metrix.

In my article, I said that I planned to talk with Robin Goad, the director of research for Hitwise UK, who spoke at Search Engine Strategies London during the “Competitive Research” session on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008. I said that I intended to ask him, “Can the flap of a butterfly’s wings in the Googleplex set off a tornado in the top UK news and media sites?”

Well, the folks at Hitwise didn’t wait until SES London to dig through their data on how 8.43 million UK Internet users interact with more than 1 million websites, across more than 165 industries.

I love these guys and want to thank Heather Hopkins, Matt Tatham and Heather Dougherty for emailing me answers to my questions – within 24 hours of my asking them. And I also want to thank them for providing the industry’s most timely and robust competitive insights, too.

So, what does the Hitwise data show?

Google News Upstream

The Hitwise data shows that Google News UK’s upstream share of visits from Google UK was 63.23 percent in January 2008, up from 62.05 percent in January 2007. But, the roller coaster ride depicted in the chart above triggered some follow-on questions.

Universal search started rolling out on May 16, 2007. Is that why Google News UK saw a spike in visits from Google UK in May?

Google News UK started hosting stories from Agence France-Presse (AFP), the Associated Press (AP), the Canadian Press (CP) and The Press Association (PA) in the UK on August 31, 2007. So, why did Google News UK see a drop in visits from Google UK in September?

Could Google have dialed up the percentage of times that news appeared in universal search results in November? Heather Dougherty, director of research at Hitwise, says, “The axis in the chart is magnifying the increases and decreases in the clickstream, since the changes in the percentages of the downstream share are fairly low. Although they do show an uptick from September through January.”

Finally, Yahoo News UK & Ireland, MSN UK News and AOL UK News are among the more than 4,500 English-language news sources worldwide aggregated by Google News UK. But, Yahoo News UK & Ireland, MSN UK News and AOL UK News host stories from AFP, AP, CP and PA. Since “duplicate” news wire stories no longer appear in Google News UK results – unless you sort by date with duplicates included – how has this impacted the other news search engines?

I asked Matt Tatham of Hitwise to email me the downstream data from Google News UK to Yahoo News UK & Ireland, MSN UK News and AOL UK News. Within 24 hours, he did.

Now, before I became a PR guy – and long before I became an SEO – I was an award-winning newspaper editor and political columnist. So, I confess that when I dig deeper into a story, I still expect to find the “devil in the details.”

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered “the better angels of our nature” in the chart below.

Google News UK Downstream

It shows that Google News UK sent a big spike in downstream visits to Yahoo News UK & Ireland the week of June 2, 2007, shortly after universal search started rolling out. And, after Google News UK started hosting stories from AFP, AP, CP and PA on August 31, 2007, there’s been a big spike in downstream visits to MSN News UK.

In other words, Google News UK is sorting stories “without fear or favor.” It is so unbiased that it is even sending traffic to its competitors. Or, to borrow a line from the BBC charter, Google News UK is “free from both political and commercial influence” and answers only to its users.

While that’s not what I expected to find by digging deeper into this story, facts are facts. Who knows? Maybe you can make money without doing evil.

Greg Jarboe is the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, a search engine optimization and public relations firm. He is also the news search, blog search and PR correspondent for the Search Engine Watch Blog.

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