New Google public Web tracking tool shrouds its own sites

Early reviewers criticize tool's inability to provide data on Google's own properties

Google on Friday launched a new tool that measures and compares public Web site traffic across geographies and related Web sites and searches. The new Google Trend for Websites tool was quickly browbeaten by some early reviewers because it doesn't allow traffic on many of the company's own properties, including Google.com, YouTube, Blogger and Picasa, to be measured.

In a blog post announcing the tool, R.J. Pittman, Google's director of product management for consumer search properties, acknowledged one issue -- that the results compiled by the new tool created by Google Labs may not match other data sources tracking Web site traffic because the data is estimated and aggregated from a variety of sources.

But technology blogger Michael Arrington suggested that the inability to measure traffic on its own sites is a much bigger problem for Google Trends.

"Google simply isn't able to use its own tools for estimating traffic -- since by definition all the data is being gathered by Google for the product is from Google users (their toolbar, for example), the data for Google's sites would be skewed to 100 per cent of all Internet users," Arrington noted. "It points out an inherent flaw in the product, and I'm not sure Google can easily solve it."

Mashable blogger Adam Ostrow questioned whether the new Google tool will fare better than established traffic-measurement services like Alexa and Compete, which have been criticized for inaccuracies.

"Will Google, with its mounds of search and clickthru data, be able to do better?" Ostrow asked. "Maybe, or maybe not."

Ostrow also pointed to Google's acknowledgment that all results from the new tools will be estimated and will include aggregated data from anonymous opt-in data-sharing settings in Google Analytics.

"In other words, this means that sites that opt in to share their Google Analytics will have more accurate results than those that don't," he added. "Personally, I can accept the inaccuracy of third-party stat tracking services, but with some sites opting in to share their data and others not, it strikes me that the comparisons won't be completely apples-to-apples."

However, he added that Google's information on geography, other sites visited and similar searches in the new tool are likely to be very accurate because of the huge volume of data gathered from the search engine.

The Google tool will only add to confusion in comparing Web site traffic, agreed Nathania Johnson, a blogger at Search Engine Watch. Johnson used Compete, Alexa and Google Trends for Websites to compare three different search-engine blogs and got three different graphs from the tools.

"With all three, there are definite seasonal dips," Johnson noted. "But these graphs may speak more to the popularity of Google, Alexa and Compete than they do of the Web sites you may search. Alexa makes the sites look like they've seen traffic decline, and Compete makes the sites look like the traffic has increased, beginning with a big jump last June. Furthermore, Google Trends for Websites does not offer numerical values to give you a ballpark figure of how a site is performing. Alexa and Compete do."

Still, Johnson acknowledged that Google's tool likely will become the "most authoritative source for comparison data," since it has access to far more data than either Alexa or Compete.

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Heather Havenstein

Computerworld
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