Google Bests Microsoft in ComScore Site Visitor Rankings

While Google has had the lead for quite some time as a search provider, Microsoft has almost traditionally led the field in terms of total number of visitors to sites hosted by a single company. That changed sometime during the last three months, according to comScore rankings revealed by the San Francisco Chronicle this morning.

Based on new comScore numbers, total visitors to Google-hosted sites worldwide, ages 15 and up, rose in March by a greater rate than Microsoft's - 5% monthly versus 3.7%, to 528 million total visitors. Microsoft's numbers totaled 527 million for March. Last December, Microsoft sites were collecting 509 million non-child users worldwide versus Google's 494 million, by comScore's tally.

These numbers come amid a new round of skepticism, led by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, over the validity of formulas used by comScore and other services such as Nielsen/NetRatings to determine online viewership. Methods currently in place involve statistical sampling of small segments of the online community, which are then factored into formulas that apply those samples to large populations. The concept is similar to exit polling during an election, although the ratio between the sample data and the global population tends to be huge.

If a "plus or minus" figure were applied to comScore numbers the way it is in private election-related polling, conceivably Microsoft's one million visitors shortfall would fall within the "margin of error."

In an open letter to the advertising industry last September, comScore President and CEO Magid Abraham cleverly defended his industry's relative accuracy without actually divulging a margin of error for his own firm. Instead, he quoted an article published in Slate which cited his company's competitor, Nielsen/NetRatings, as having touted a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points, and cited that figure as a relative measure of industry accuracy.

If 4% were indeed the online industry ratings standard, than perhaps the Google/Microsoft relative rankings should be declared statistical ties. Microsoft's December margin of victory of 3%, and March's margin of victory for Google of two tenths of one percent, could both be deemed too slim for either side to declare an outright win.

Google also topped Microsoft earlier this week in a Millward Brown survey of global brand recognition, which ranked Google first in overall market recognition value, ahead of General Electric, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola, in that order.

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