Earlier this week, when comScore set off a GOOG selling frenzy on Wall Steet with data showing click rate growth had flattened, I called the research firm for comment but to no avail. Amazing what 48 hours can bring. After a continued outcry, comScore has now issued a lengthy statement with additional data and charts (previously unavailable to non-clients) arguing, basically, that everyone should just calm down. Here’s the money quote:
While we do not claim that these concerns are unwarranted, we believe a careful analysis of our search data does not lend them direct support. More specifically, the evidence suggests that the softness in Google’s paid click metrics is primarily a result of Google’s own quality initiatives that result in a reduction in the number of paid listings and, therefore, the opportunity for paid clicks to occur.
ComScore also shared the following chart, which demonstrates that click rates declined for much of last year, long before economic fears began bleeding into the nation’s collective consciousness. It also shows how ad coverage, defined as the percentage of queries that display at least one ad, has declined roughly in parallel to click volume growth.
So you see, comScore says, Google is pumping fewer ads to its users and receiving fewer clicks in return. ComScore theorizes that reduction will be counterbalanced by an increase in revenue per query under the click quality initiative
On a separate but related note, agency heavy SearchIgnite has said it’s seen none of the click volume declines described by comScore data, nor revenue shortfalls either. The agency, which claims to represent $200 million in search spending, said ad impressions for the first six weeks of 2008 were up 79.5 percent year over year, while paid clicks were up 47.2 percent. Additionally, ad spending on Google grew by 40.1 percent among the same group of clients (In other words the data doesn’t include new business).
SearchIgnite’s research should not be considered representative of the search industry at large, as it’s just one agency with a defined group of clients who all share one thing in common: they follow SearchIgnite’s advice. But then, can comScore’s data be treated as really representative of consumers’ click behaviors? After all, the company was seriously challenged by the IAB last year, and publishers of all stripes love to take potshots at its audience and traffic estimates.
My take continues to be that while the click rate fall-off is not necessarily the result of a lack of consumer confidence, a lack of confidence is bound to result in a reduction in click volume. More succinctly: No, Google’s not insulated from a recession and no, comScore’s findings are not (necessarily) a bad sign.