Why You Can’t Compare Google+ User Figures To Facebook & Twitter

Google announced that Google+ has 40 million users today. Woo-hoo! That’s nearly half what Twitter claims, right? And while it’s below Facebook’s 800 million, Google’s getting there, right? Wrong. The number simply can’t be compared to Facebook and Twitter.

Active Users Vs. Sign-Ups

Let’s start with Facebook. At various points, Facebook has given out a count of how many users it has. Currently, on its stats page, Facebook claims 800 million active users.

Active users are key here. By active, Facebook means people who have logged into Facebook at least once per month. Facebook has many more users than that who have signed-up for Facebook at some point but who don’t actively use the service.

Counting active users make sense. It can help filter out people who might create dummy accounts for spamming social media networks, or to secure vanity URLs (more an issue with Twitter) or those who signed up but maybe never went back.

Twitter recently reported its active users, claiming 100 million last month. These are people that Twitter says logged in at least once per month.

Google Reports Sign-Ups, Not Actives

How about the 40 million figure that Google released today. Those are simply the number of people who have signed up for Google Plus, the company tells me. It’s not an active user figure.

More accurately, it would be called the sign-up figure. Some of those will be active. Indeed, millions will have signed up within the past month, when Google+ opened to anyone. The mere act of signing up would make the active, at least for a bit longer. But not all of them.

What is the active user figure for Google Plus? That’s not something Google’s giving out, right now. That means going forward, until you hear the word “active” next to a figure that Google provides, don’t use it to measure against the active figures given out by its competitors. It’s just not accurate.

Figures, Figures, Everywhere!

It’s also important not to compare Google’s figure to Google+ growth figures from other sources.

For example, in August, comScore reported that Google had 25 million visitors. So has Google grown by 15 million visitors to reach 40 million as announced today? No — because one figure is from comScore, using comScore’s own estimating methods, while the other figure is from Google. You can’t compare the two directly.

Another source of Google+ growth stats has been Paul Allen, who has done a number of estimates over time based on counting surnames. But his figures can only be compared against his own figures, whether they’re for Google+ (which is all he’s been doing) or for other social services.

Even comparing within the same data set can be tough. Consider this chart from the comScore estimate I’d mentioned earlier:

The growth of Google+ looks incredible impressive compared to other social networks. But the overall environment of that growth is also much different.

There were more people online when Google+ launched than when Facebook, Twitter or MySpace did. There were also many more people who were already acclimated to the idea of being on a social network.

Google+ also had the advantage of launching a network where people had already signed up for Google in general, making Google+ an easy “add-on” rather than a starting fresh account elsewhere.

Google’s Given Only Two Official Figures

To date, the only other figure that Google itself has given out about Google+ was that it hit 10 million users as of July 14, 2011. That was provided during Google’s Q2 2011 earnings call. That can be compared to the 40 million user figure given out today. That means growth of 30 million sign-ups in 3 months, an average of 10 million sign-ups per month.

In contrast, Facebook gave out a figure of 750 million ACTIVE users on July 6, 2011. On September 22, it announced it had reached 800 million ACTIVE users. That’s growth of 50 million active users in about 2 1/2 months, about 20 million more active users gained per month.

But wait! Google+ wasn’t open to the public during most of that period while Facebook was. If it had been, Google+ might have gained more users than Facebook. The average figure doesn’t accurately reflect this!

No, it doesn’t. But then again, Facebook’s count is for active users and so will be lower than Google’s count for sign-ups. See why you shouldn’t compare these figures?

Similarly, while Twitter and Facebook both have active user figures that you can compare, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is pretty relaxed about those people not logging in, since plenty of them apparently still consume content from the service in ways that Twitter finds valuable.

Related Reading

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Facebook | Google: Google+ | Stats: Popularity | Top News | Twitter

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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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  • http://www.superrankings.com Kerr

    I think that despite the number of Google sign ups it will be hard to over take Facebook. I see even technically challenged friends of mine on Facebook, who have no idea to set up a Google account and then a profile and use all their features. The have no desire to move to Google.

    I see most of the people on there so far are using it like a more user-friendly Linked In to network for business purposes. I think they will have a hard time prying the personal side of Facebook away from Facebook.

  • http://nicopretorius.wordpress.com/ Nico Pretorius

    Google+ should not try to compete against Facebook or Twitter, they are too entrenched and it will take a LOT more than what Google+ can offer for people to move. They should rather incorporate Google Docs into Google+ as soon as possible and aim it at companies where project groups can use Google+ to work together on a project. It will give them a nice niche market to play in, and in time will give it the same active user count as Facebook. Don’t try and be a social network, try and be something else.

  • dirk

    Yes, statistics are tricky. Numbers are flying around. It is not simple to select the correct ones, especially in a case like this where huge financial interest are playing.
    Google has certainly a need to present Google+ as a fast growing success, while the completion has an interest in presenting it as a total failure.
    I don’t know about active user, but if this is correct
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/113117251731252114390/posts/AZh8wwb76vR
    there was a spectacular traffic increase not long ago.

  • http://AboutUs.org/KristinaWeis Kristina Weis

    The thing that’s always made me think less of Google+ sign up numbers is how easy it is to “sign up” for it if you already have a Gmail account. I think I just got an email that said someone had added me on Google+, I clicked a link to see what was up, and voila! I was now on Google+ without going through the normal sign up process that you have to do on Twitter or Facebook. These unintentional sign ups don’t feel as credible, and those people are probably less likely to be active later on.

  • http://google.com Agam Panwar

    Once again Google team proved that they know how to play with the stats. Being more specific, the time spent per month is more valuable stat then the shared one but then team G might include the login time via GMail there…

    Anyways, I personally felt that Google+ would need more time to develop (if it didn’t failed like the other G projects). Best wishes :)

  • http://www.nathanielbailey.co.uk Nathaniel Bailey

    Well I dont think you can compare G+ with FB anyway as FB is the social network for everyone where as G+ (IMO) is more of a social network for more web savvy people such as SEO’s, webmasters and so on. But then again google clearly dont see G+ this way anymore because they are doing everything FB does such as games.

    As for Twitters numbers, thats a number of active users that login to twitter correct? But does that also count people that dont login to twitter directly to post updates? For example, I have my blog auto post my new blog posts to twitter, so does that still count me as login in? The same question goes for the others I guess, as I use automated submissions for both twitter, FB & G+ just like many others do.

  • http://www.thisisjayslife.com Jay

    Google + has been out for what 3 to 4 months. Facebook for 6 or 7 years? You don’t get 800 million in a couple of months. The active users than check just “once a month” have grown tired of Facebook and only check it to talk to old friends or family. When my mom got on Facebook I then realized this is no longer cool, like when I left MySpace (RIP). I now use twitter and have become hooked on google +. People use their circles in some “interesting ways” and how youtube is connected makes it so easy to share hilarious videos with my circles. Not long before facebook isnt the cool kid in school.

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