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Dirty Little Secret of Search – Google Refers More Traffic

For several years I’ve ranted about a key metric that most in the search industry seem to either ignore or keep mum about its consequences. That is – search REFERRAL percentages (tracked by server logs or software). Can we bring this dark secret into the light for 2006?

I just saw the news on the “PEW Internet and American Life Project” study, released Wednesday, which looks at gender differences in web use. That reminded me of the regular comScore Media Metrix reports on “Searches Performed” at each of the major SE’s and the similar “Higher conversion percentages from MSN Search” reports which we hear routinely. “Searches Performed” at Yahoo and MSN are relevant only to the ad sales staff at MSN and Yahoo and almost entirely irrelevant to the rest of us. What matters above all is “Searches Referred and Delivered” to our client sites from all of those searches performed.

It matters not at all to a webmaster if 99% of his search referrals from MSN convert to sales if MSN sends only one in a hundred of his search referrals – which means that Google could send only a tiny percentage who CONVERT to buyers, yet still ultimately refer FAR more buyers than MSN – because Google sends vastly more traffic to the webmaster. Smaller percentages of MUCH larger numbers of visitors still buy far more stuff.

EVERY client I monitor traffic for shows between 60% and 90% of their traffic coming from Google searches and only between 5% and 15% coming from either Yahoo or MSN searches. I’ve asked search engine reps from Yahoo why this is and get no meaningful responses. (MSN seems not to send reps to the conferences I’ve been able to attend.)

Is it any wonder everyone is focused on Google when it comes to SEO? They deliver traffic while the others seem to hold on to those searchers – No matter how highly ranked a site is! My own sites are ranked better on MSN and Yahoo than on Google – yet Google sends as much as ten times the traffic on many profitable search phrases. How is that possible? Why do so few pay attention to this detail and fail to discuss it?

Is it possible that some of those referrals are somehow stripped of their “referrer” through some multiple bounce clickthru mechanism at Yahoo and MSN – so that those referrals show up as “No Referrer” or “Blocked Referrer” or “Direct Access” or “Bookmarked” in log files? If that is going on – to what end?

Will 2006 see some meaningful discussion of this dirty little secret of search?

Mike Banks Valentine