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Thursday, August 03, 2006

What does 60 per cent really say about Google?

Bill Tancer published the July 2006 search volume breakdown showing that Google processed an estimated 60.2% of all U.S. searches for the month of July 2006. People cite these rising statistics frequently, but I never see any in-depth analysis of the activity behind the numbers. Perhaps I have to pay someone $1500 or more to see the raw data. That's not going to happen.

Given how much search activity is generated on Google by people checking their PageRank, their rankings, their visibility in Google ("Googling themselves"), competitor rankings, coverage of their content by Google, and robots it should be no surprise that Google receives a tremendous amount of traffic.

But how much of that traffic is really useful? How much of Yahoo!'s traffic is really useful? How much of MSN and Ask's traffic are useful?

My feeling is that Google has a lower overall percentage of Human Need-based Traffic. By Human Need-based Traffic, I mean queries where someone actually wants to find something useful for their personal benefit. Maybe they are researching a future purchase, or seeking an online community to join, or looking for interesting news and gossip, or maybe they want to buy something.

What Human Need-based Traffic does not include are all the positioning-centric queries that online marketers generate for statistical purposes, all the automated queries performed by robots for the purpose of scraping results or generating advertising clicks, and vanity queries.

Need-based traffic is really what should be measured. Is that what we are seeing in these statistics, though? I think that Google still dominates Need-based searches by a wide margin, but not by as wide a margin as it dominates overall searches.

As MSN and Ask become more visible, they may be subjected to more positioning-centric queries than in the past. If that proves to be the case, it should shift their overall market share. There may or may not be a correlation to advertising revenues. It would be interesting to study where the positioning-centric queries come from.


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