Google By Far The Leader, If You Look At Site Owner Traffic Stats

When I posted Enquisite’s search engine popularity stats yesterday, I almost went into a riff about how site owner traffic stats are often so different from what the major measuring services report. Google almost always comes out much, much higher when you look at site traffic referral sources (as with Enquisite’s stats). I did get into this on yesterday’s Daily SearchCast. But Rich Skrenta does a great job on the issue for who prefer to read about the issue. More on his post, along with a long look at stats, the pros and cons of Google being a huge traffic driver, and more.

Google’s true search market share is 70% is Rich’s article. He highlights how the ratings services tend to put Google in the 40 percent range, but site owner traffic shows Google with a much higher than that. Having access to Hitwise’s stats, he fires up a chart showing the traffic various sites get from different search engines — Apple, Craigslist, eBay and others. The percentage of Google traffic far outweighs that from other sites.

To be super clear, let’s zoom in on one site, Apple. Hitwise reported that 8.6 percent of its search related traffic came from Google, with Yahoo behind at 2.4 percent.

Now if you work off the general benchmark that Google is reported to have 40 percent of the search share, versus Yahoo generally around 20 percent, you can see the gap. The percent of traffic Yahoo sends should be about half the 8.6 percent Google sends — or 4.3 percent. It’s not. It’s that lower 2.4 percent figure.

Of course, "general benchmark" is not entirely accurate. To explain more, I have to go back to that Search Popularity Stats, Sliced & Diced article I did last month. Here were the figures for all search engines, for traffic in the US, for October 2006:





























And here’s a zoom in on just Google from October 2005 through October 2006:

Google Search Popularity, Oct 2005-Oct 2006

On average (comScore, NetRatings & Hitwise for October 2006), Google has a 52 percent share. That’s higher than the "40-something percent market share" that Rich talks about. For ages, 40-something would have been fine to say, but 50-something is more accurate. But he’s still dead on target that if you talk to site owners, Google drives a far higher percentage than the share of searches happening. It’s more like 70 to 90-something for them.

Remember my Search Engine Land Stats: December 2006 Preview that I did last week? That illustrates the case so well. We had 800 search related visits from Google for the first week or so in December, compared to 37 (37!) from Yahoo, the next highest search engine.

Oh, but Search Engine Land is such a new site. Sure, but that shouldn’t have so much to do with it. Yahoo’s supposed to be a good search engine. It should be able to find all of our pages just like Google. And, I can see we have plenty listed. Those pages so far just haven’t sent us much traffic.

Well, maybe we haven’t optimized right for Yahoo. Well, we haven’t optimized for Google. We’ve optimized generally, doing the things any search engine wants. But Google delivers more.

Just a fluke for Search Engine Land? No — at Search Engine Watch, Google was also the biggest driver. How about my personal blog, Daggle? For Dec 1 through 19, I had 18,098 "organic" or search-related visits. Google sent 16,839 of those — 93 percent. MSN was next highest at 383 or 2.1 percent, followed by Yahoo with 349 or 1.9 percent.

Ask any site owner, and almost consistently, they tell you Google is by far the biggest search engine source they have. That makes life pretty sucky for Google.

Consider the routine freak-outs that happen if Google makes an algorithm change and someone loses traffic. They get blamed for hating webmasters; for trying to drive up AdWords purchases; for trying to promote their own content; for dissing the little guy. You name it. Heck, you’ve even got some people like Barry Schwartz who think they shouldn’t do algorithm changes during the holidays to especially protect site owners from any harm.

If Yahoo or Microsoft has a hiccup, most site owners don’t care. They don’t care because they don’t notice. They don’t notice because they aren’t getting much traffic relatively speaking. And if they aren’t getting much traffic, then where are all those searchers going if comScore or NetRatings or Hitwise say the search stats are higher.

They might not be going to web search. Lots of stuff is mixed in with search data. In the New Year, I’ll try to do an entire new drill down into the stats. But a search for something on Yahoo Sports? That might be counted as a "search," and it is — but it’s not the type of search that would register with site-based metrics. The searcher might stay entirely inside Yahoo.

Back to Google, I feel for them (as I talked about more on yesterday’s Daily SearchCast). The clearly send so much traffic — and traffic for free — to websites and get so much grief in return because of it. If they were less dominant, the Blame Google mentality (and don’t bother checking anyone else) would diminish. But then so would the traffic site owners love from Google.

That’s one reason why I love what Google’s been doing with Google Webmaster Central. I talked about this in my keynote at SES Chicago this month, plus it was on my 25 Things I Love About Google list earlier this year. Big bad evil Google, as it is often painted, has consistently been adding more tools and offering more advice to support site owners who want the free traffic from Google. Yes, there’s a good PR aspect to doing this. But there’s also a sense of relief for me that Google — so fixated on chasing the video dollar, the radio buck, the newspaper cash, throwing ads up wherever we are — actually is putting in significant time and resources to help site owners.

I’ll leave off with some reading materials on stats, if you want to get into them more, from my past writings over at Search Engine Watch:

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Google: Critics | Stats: Popularity


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Don Dodge

    Danny, I think the difference is market share for “search referrals” versus “total searches performed”. They are different, but that doesn’t explain the relative differences in market share.

    My own blog traffic breaks down like this; 69.5% from Google, 1% Yahoo, 1% MSN, 10% links from other bloggers, and 18% links from my own blog to other posts.

    My guess is you are all right (You, Hitwise, ComScore)but the definitions and parameters are different. I wrote a blog today on my findings

  • Michael Martinez

    You’re comparing apples to oranges. Since all sites are not relevant to all queries, there is a disconnect between site owner data and search engine data.

    If, out of 1,000 searches run on engine X, 200 are about “danny sullivan”, your statistics on SearchEngineLand will only reflect some value about the 200 queries for “danny sullivan”, not the 1,000 queries overall.

    If engine X has a 10% search market share, “danny sullivan” may still only be a popular query on engine X, and it may grab only 50 out of 1,000 queries on engine Y.

    Engines X and Y undoubtedly have some audience overlap, but their audiences also have unique profiles, and those profiles include different interest trends.

    You just don’t have enough data to make a valid analysis.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Mike, I pretty much already said that people might disagree in using Search Engine Land as a sole basis of anything. That’s why I mentioned that I’ve seen the same at Search Engine Watch over years, why I’ve seen the same thing at Daggle, why I’ve heard many other site owners say this, as well has having seen stats from traffic collection services say it. But hey — you run a site. Most of your traffic from Google?

  • JeffWells

    This confirms something I’ve been noticing over the past few months. We run a wholesale web site, and I’ve been noticing a decline in our Yahoo referalls over the past year. Even though our rankings for our key terms are better in Yahoo then they are in Google, my organic traffic for December is 59% Google and only 11% Yahoo. Interestingly MSN is 22%.

  • ROI Guy


    I have wondered about the stats that show Google’s market share at 50% or even 60%. As an SEM professional, the only thing that really matters is the share of REVENUE delivered by each engine.

    I aggregated data for a couple of different clients across Google, Yahoo and MSN for May, 2006:

    Google produced around 74% of revenue, Yahoo 20%, MSN 6%.

    While this is certainly not a statistically significant sample or a broad cross section of the internet, these revenue figures are much closer to the Hitwise and Enquisite numbers reporting referrals to commerce sites.

  • Michael Martinez

    Danny, if you’re talking about Xenite.Org, most of my traffic comes from non-search sources. If you’re talking about my new SEO blog, most of my traffic comes from non-search sources. If you’re talking about my other, older (non-SEO) blog, Google accounts for about 56% of the traffic (according to Google Analytics, about which I have expressed reservations that don’t need to be revisited).

    Among the search engine referrals, Google probably sends my sites the most traffic. I get so many referrals from various Google, MSN, and Yahoo! properties that adding them all up is pretty tedious. Just looking at the top few referrer listings for both domains, Google seems to send more traffic then either Yahoo! or MSN. MSN sends almost as much traffic as Yahoo!

    Google does not appear to account for anywhere near 80% of all search-related traffic, but I would put their referrals above 60%.

    I see very different traffic patterns for my various domains based on topicality.

  • ★ ★ Search Engines WEB ★ ★

    One possible way to resolve this to the COMBINE THEM ALL – Then take the Average.

    Although on the surface, this might appear to be a copout….another way of looking at this tactic would be ‘WISDOM OF THE CROWD’

    One possibility of why Google far excells on the example sites mentioned, would be the relative complexity of the keywords people might have used to find the sites -

    Look at the so called 2006 top search terms from the major search engines.

    Does anyone REALLY doubt that gaining access to precious statistics from those sites that come up #1 or #2 for such searches as:

    Britney Spears,
    Pam Anderson,
    etc….would show a different graph??

    It really is possible that the Extremely Common, Extremely Popular Simple terms are what are giving the other search engines a bigger piece of the graph.

    Google users – overall – may search with more complex terms and are apt to search more frequently, and go to page 2 SERPs.

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