Hitwise: Google & Yahoo Make Tiny Gains In July 2006

Today I look at figures from Hitwise, as part of my series on search engine
rating figures that have recently been released and how to analyze them. For
those just tuning in, on Monday, I
covered
comScore stats showing a Google decline in July 2006. On Tuesday, I
talked about
NetRatings also showing a decline, but a smaller one than comScore. The main
point in both of those articles was to stress the need to look at data over a
longer period of time than month-to-month and to examine figures from multiple
services.

Unlike comScore and NetRatings, Hitwise has only been publicly releasing
"share of search" figures since March 2006. Share of search means that you look
at all the searches that happen on the web, in a particular country, within a
particular vertical space or whatever. Then you calculate what percentage of
those shares each search engine handles.

Having share of search figures is a real relief compared to the bad old days
of counting unique visitors or visits or page views from across an entire site.
This past
article
explains more about that.

Now Hitwise is doing what comScore and NetRatings have been doing. However,
where the underlying data comes from is different. The other companies watch
what surfers are doing by having a group that they monitor through meters,
systems on your computer to seeing where you go and what you do. Hitwise instead
analyzes data from ISPs that it partners with. It sees what groups of people are
doing through the ISP data it obtains.

While the exact data gathering method varies, the idea is generally the same.
All three companies are monitoring groups of real surfers, to make estimates
about what the entire audience of web surfers are doing.

What’s Hitwise got to say about search activity last month? Here’s the share
of searches in the United States that each search engine is estimated to have
handled:

Search Engine

Domain

6/06

7/06

Change

Google

www.google.com

59.8%

60.2%

0.5%

Yahoo

search.yahoo.com

22.3%

22.5%

0.3%

MSN

search.msn.com

12.1%

11.8%

-0.3%

Ask

www.ask.com

3.6%

3.3%

-0.3%

AOL

search.aol.com

1.05%

1.01%

-0.04%

For The 4 Week Period Ending:

7/1/06

7/29/06

My freshly updated page,
Hitwise Search
Engine Ratings
, gives you stats going further back in time, along with more
explanations about what the domains might or might not include. There may be
plenty of searches that aren’t being counted, something I’m checking with
Hitwise about.

I’ve warned not to worry about month-to-month changes, yet I’ve shown them in
the chart above in order to talk more about reasons why you might not fret so
much. As I’ve covered, two ratings services have said Google dropped in July in
differing amounts. Now here’s a third saying it grew. Decision? You might split
the difference and assume the truth is somewhere in between. It might not be
comScore’s one point plunge. It might not be Hitwise’s half-point rise. It might
be closer this time to what NetRatings was showing, a very slight decline or
perhaps no gain.

Let’s pull the trend chart from my Hitwise page, then we’ll talk
month-to-month stuff more:

In my article yesterday, I talked about being worried mainly if I saw a
particular search engine plunge through particular "bands" on a chart, say if
MSN were to break out of the 10 to 15 percent band. From the Hitwise chart,
things are pretty much status quo across the board.

Look at Yahoo back in May. It hit 22.0 percent, a decline from 22.2 percent
in April 2006 and 22.3 percent the month before in March. Conclusion? Ring the
alarm bells! But then it climbed the next two months. Now it’s at the highest
point in five months. But if you consider the entire period, it pretty much
hasn’t changed. Anyone looking at only month-to-month comparisons is probably
ringing alarm bells needlessly or lighting cigars with $100 bills that they
ought to be banking.

Google was looking to be a band buster, of course. It popped into the 60 to
65 percent range. Party time at the Plex? Early

data
I mentioned yesterday from Hitwise suggests that August 2006 will see
Google back in the 55 to 60 percent band. If so, that’s again more a status quo
event than a trend to me, unless you’re happy with status quo being a trend, and
I am.

MSN’s generally seeing drops from Hitwise, something the other services are
also reflecting. On the back of all three of them, this is a case where the
alarm bells feel far more warranted. It’s mostly within its regular band, but it
does seem likely it’s going to plunge into a new, lower level.

It’s also interesting that AOL is a far, far lower share than the other
services. Hitwise gives it a 1 percent share for July 2006. NetRatings gives it
a 11.8 percent share, while comScore a 5.9 percent share.

The most likely reason that Hitwise is so low is that it cannot see the
searches that AOL users are doing, if they access AOL Search from within AOL,
using AOLs own software and access lines. That’s going to have an impact. As a
result, it’s difficult to trust the Hitwise figures much in the case of AOL —
though in my next part, I’ll still explain how to tap into the rating services
to measure a search engine’s health, even if they all seem to disagree.

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