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 Google.com 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 Facebook.com and then CNN.com (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?