Google apologises to newspapers over 'nonsense' traffic stats in EU response

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Google has apologised to The Guardian and Bild, after citing “nonsense” figures for the two sites’ traffic statistics in a response to the European Commission’s antitrust charges against the company.

The figures, which claimed that the two papers get “up to 85% of their traffic directly” and “less than 10%” from Google, were later retracted.

In the wake of the decision by European regulators to investigate the search firm for anticompetitive practices, Google’s senior vice president for search, Amit Singhal, published a blog post arguing against the allegations.

“Any economist would say that you typically do not see a ton of innovation, new entrants or investment in sectors where competition is stagnating – or dominated by one player. Yet that is exactly what’s happening in our world,” Singhal wrote. He argued that the wealth of innovation in sectors such as travel search, shopping comparisons, and social media is evidence that Google does not dominate any of those sectors.

Google also defended its role in news, an area not covered by the European Commission’s complaint but one where it is constantly under attack across Europe. In Spain, the company closed its news search product after the introduction of a so-called Google Tax required it to pay licensing fees to papers it aggregated. In Germany, major publishers accused Google of blackmail when it removed images and text snippets following a lawsuit.

Downplaying Google’s strength in the news field, Singhal wrote that “when it comes to news, users often go directly to their favourite sites. For example, Bild and The Guardian get up to 85% of their traffic directly. Less than 10% comes from Google.”

But those figures are “nonsense”, according to the Guardian’s audience editor Chris Moran. Citing the paper’s internal statistics, he said that “unknown traffic to Guardian fronts” – readers coming directly to the paper’s front page – “was broadly the same in [page views] as Google referral.”

After it was brought to their attention, Google removed the figures and apologised, updating the post with a correction.

“An earlier version of this post quoted traffic figures for Bild and The Guardian, researched on a third-party site. The Guardian data were for the domain guardian.co.uk, which is no longer the main domain for the paper. We’ve removed these references and we’re sorry for the error,” the correction read.

The company also apologised to Yelp, another firm cited as evidence of healthy competition. “Yelp has pointed out that they get 40% of their searches (not their traffic) direct from their mobile apps. They don’t appear to disclose their traffic numbers. We’re happy to correct the record.”

SimilarWeb, the third-party site which was the source of the incorrectly reported Guardian traffic figures, estimates site data using information from a panel of web surfers who have volunteered to install a browser plugin. If the correct domain for the Guardian is entered, it suggests that slightly over 30% of the Guardian’s traffic comes from Google, compared to slightly under 30% of the traffic coming from direct sources. Those figures are also contradicted by the Guardian’s internal statistics.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Thursday 16th April 2015 12.48 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010