Posted March 22, 2010 5:14 pm by with 10 comments

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Hitwise has been blogging its stats for over a month showing Facebook beating Google in all kinds of ways. At the beginning of February, they said that Facebook sent more downstream traffic to news sites than Google News. Last week, they had two such stories: Facebook eclipsed Google in terms of traffic and loyalty to those downstream news sites.

But a closer look showed that the traffic numbers looked a bit . . . massaged. Facebook’s numbers include all their traffic and capabilities—search, video, interaction, etc.—while Google’s numbers only represented pages, not YouTube or Gmail or Google News or any of their other properties (which compete directly with Facebook in many respects). And the returning visitor rate, shown below, may also be suspect, as Danny Sullivan observed in his stat rant on the subject.

Like with the earlier report, the numbers for Facebook, an integrated platform, reflect the total usage of the site, while the numbers for Google focus only on one of its properties. With the full data, Danny points out, Google handily trumps

Danny also points out that Hitwise’s data, obtained from ISPs rather than analytics, can’t indicate actual referrers—hence the names “upstream traffic” and “downstream traffic.” Hitwise can only see what sites users visited before and after—not whether there’s any real relationship between those sites (as there would be in a link/referrer relationship). It’s possible that people visit and then (or whatever) separately, via direct or type-in traffic—and Hitwise would have now way of differentiating that visit from one where someone followed a link.

The reason Hitwise loves to blog about this is most likely that it’s an attention-grabber. Suddenly the most popular social network in the world looks like the Little Engine that Could Unseat Google, and the links and headlines come flowing in. Statistics with an agenda should be viewed with skepticism indeed.

While Facebook may be the best-positioned website to eclipse Google, the numbers aren’t there yet unless you’re willing to use fuzzy math. And even if they were, would that really mean the beginning of the end for Google? Couldn’t Facebook and Google peacefully co-exist?

What do you think? Is Facebook really close to beating Google? Why does Hitwise want that to be the case?

  • Doesn’t matter if facebook is really that close. The fact is that anyone remotely close is news. And people are getting sick of google like they got sick of Microsoft back 10 years ago – because they are being bullies and not respecting people.

    Also another point is Facebook’s strong trend of growth. They are killing it. So even if they are not beating google because of the fact that images, news, etc are not taken into the stats for google, it’s still a mighty impressive stat.
    .-= Wynne´s last blog ..Speed Up Your WP Blog & Get Better Search Engine Rankings With this Tool =-.

    • The point is that they’re not close. Google refers four times the traffic they do, but somehow the statistics they chose made it look like Google was doing far less.

  • Google is still kicking ass, unfortunately. As soon as Google stops kicking ass I will be rich as hell. Much easier to get rankings on Yahoo or Bing

  • People goto Google to leave
    People goto Facebook to socialize

    Both have a purpose.

    .-= Mukul Verma´s last blog ..Positive Approach =-.

  • Its easy to understand form that graph only.Facebook is really very poplar and people use it maximum to get connected with friends,share information,marketing and business.So there is no wonder that facebook can beat google.

  • This industry really needs to learn how to interpret statistics and understand basic research methodology. The sheer number of posts, tweets, and updates of people not getting it and (shudder) making decisions about campaigns based on these and other bogus numbers is frightening.

  • And let’s not forget that hitwise is a load of horse fertilizer because it’s extrapolations anyhow. Like Compete and Alexa, it’s phony data that sometimes comes close to being nearly almost good enough to see trends. And that’s all these companies are good for. But they’re definitely not sophisticated enough or consistently accurate enough to make business decisions on.
    .-= Alan Bleiweiss´s last blog ..Google Labs shares the crack pipe – Living Stories Style =-.

    • Matt Tatham

      Hi Alan,

      One key differentiator with our data is that it is not based on extrapolations:

      Matt Tatham
      Experian Hitwise

      • Matt,

        So okay – you only report on the percentage of users who go to a site. Except that’s only a percentage of users you have access to. Which leaves out 95% of all users in the U.S.

        Since the web is used by such a massive number of people from all walks of life, and many markets have such diverse audiences, that means your data is still a tiny sampling and has no capacity for true validation. As “scientific” as the HitWise approach may seem to be, it’s not truly scientific.

        While I applaud HitWise for having access to such a large base, it’s still just a sampling. So until your company or any other can claim you’re tracking 40% or 50% or more of the real user base, it’s an illusion to rely on such statistics.

        What’s really sad is that business owners and marketing decision makers rely on such data which means they could very well be missing out on tremendous marketing opportunities.

        Then, because they DO rely on such data, their purchasing patterns are studied by other companies who follow suit in a “we have to buy there because our competitor is doing so” mentality. Which further props up what could very well be less than ideal locations.

        Ultimately this can potentially clearly harm what would otherwise be the best destination sites as they miss out on advertising revenue.

        As far as the “we’re the best of the bunch” marketing spin, that’s all it is. Just because one crack addict in the room happens to wear nice clothes doesn’t make them any more trustworthy than any of the other crack addicts in that room.

        *caveat – I’m not implying that you or your company are a bunch of crack addicts. I only use that for illustrative purposes in the extreme. Because that’s how I roll. 🙂
        .-= Alan Bleiweiss´s last blog ..Google Labs shares the crack pipe – Living Stories Style =-.

  • I like the google search engine. Why should I change? Facebook is where you find people linked
    together like a family. We support each other. You have my vote for Google.