Google recently announced a new addition to their Google Trends tools called “Google Trends for Websites”. In short, you can now use Google Trends to see traffic estimates, related sites, and related searches for website URLs you enter into the tool by regions and over different time periods.
According to Google, the data they use for this service is from Google.com searches, the Google toolbar, and opted-in Google Analytics data. This would lead one to believe that if you use Google Analytics as a publisher, you should choose to opt-in your data if you want to see the most accurate results possible in the trends tool.
As an overall web analytics fan, I’m always happy to see new sources of data, especially in the public website traffic field where the tools out there are all trying hard but still don’t quite deliver the goods. The players in the field are Comscore, Hitwise, Alexa, Compete, Quantcast, and possibly some others I’m forgetting about at the moment. They all have some qualities I really like, but it’s hard to totally trust any of them yet.
So will Google Trends for Websites break away from the pack and finally be a tool we can trust? How does it stack up against the competition? Well, in my first few minutes of playing with the tool I came away with mixed feelings.
1. It’s another source of data, and different data from the competition. It’s the only one of the competitors in this field that can use the true Google search, analytics, and toolbar data.
2. Viewing trends over regions is cool and helpful. Andrew Chen wrote a cool post that compared Myspace to Facebook by country and mapped it against the largest ad markets to come to some interesting conclusions.
3. Seeing related sites is helpful to know what kind of neighborhood Google thinks a site is in, and it could be used to find sites in the link building process for your own site.
4. Seeing related searches is cool for your own site but also helpful to know what keywords your competitors are getting traffic on from Google.
1. As expected, it appears that Google relies heavily on data from Google Analytics. If you’re a publisher using that tool you have more accurate data in the trend tool. If you’re not using it, the data gets poor. As an example here’s a graph of the traffic to Right Media’s website:
As you can see, the data essentially becomes non-existent in June 2007. I happen to know this is the exact time we stopped using Google Analytics as our web analytics tool because we were acquired by Yahoo!. It seems that Google no longer had enough data to track RightMedia.com. While not the highest traffic site in the world, Right Media gets enough traffic and is a well enough known company that you’d think through Google search and toolbar usage there would be some data to go on.
2. No data for smaller sites. For one, this blog shows no data in the Google Trends tool. I definitely know it gets traffic from Google, and I’m running Google Analytics. Wakeboarder.com, a site I used to own before selling a couple of years ago gets on the order of 3 million page views a month and uses Google Analytics and shows no data in Google Trends.
Hopefully they will continue to move down the tail and find a way to have data for sites like these. When the competitive tools do have data, it will mean Google Trends is useless unless you’re looking at huge sites.
3. Lack of accuracy. As Fred Wilson pointed out in a comparison of Comscore with Google Trends, he says that Comscore jives with the actual traffic statistics of his portfolio companies while Google Trends isn’t directionally correct. Ouch.
4. Google’s sites show no data. Mike Arrington theorizes this is because Google toolbar data would really skew these numbers, and he’s probably right. Although Google gave an excuse about it being as if they were giving interim financial guidance, which since it’s an estimate would not be true.
What is the answer?
If even the mighty Google can’t get it right using their massive amount of data, how can people get reliable traffic measurements and comparisons?
For the time being, I’d recommend using all the available services to provide a general view. If all of them show the same thing, it probably means it’s generally correct. If one service is off, take a look at how that service tracks data and see if that would explain it.
For the future, I like the sound of the stealth Mozilla data project that is rumored to use the Firefox browsing data to show traffic statistics. This would be a huge chunk of data, but also would have its own bias. It would give a boost to sites that skew towards Firefox users, and would cut out all Internet Explorer users (still the largest browser market), Opera users, and iPhone and Mac users using Safari.
Perhaps Microsoft could launch a service using Internet Explorer data? It’d be interesting to compare that to Firefox data.
Overall, we don’t have the answer yet, but at least Google is providing one more data source that we can all scratch our heads over until a true solution is discovered.