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Google odometer stuck

by henrycopeland
Monday, December 2nd, 2002

A key Google metric, number of searches per day, has not budged in a year.

On December 4, 2001, an article in the Boston Herald said Google processed 150 million searches a day. That represented a 250% jump in six months.

A year later, Google still gives prominent play to the benchmark, closing the first paragraph of its online company overview with the words, “Today, Google responds to more than 150 million search queries per day.”

Although true in a literal sense, the “today” is misleadingly newsy, since the same thing was true yesterday and for at least the 362 days before that. Nonetheless, the figure has become a refrain in press coverage of Google, including an article last week in the NYTimes.

Over the same period, eBay grew more than 45% in all its key metrics, and monthly page views on jumped more than 50%. Even at obscure newspapers like French weekly Courrier de Mantes, site traffic has grown 400% over the last year.

As Internet traffic races ahead, why is Google’s odometer stuck? Rather than invoke the tattered figure so faithfully, shouldn’t journalists probe for an update?

Reached by phone, Google spokesman Nathan Tyler wouldn’t tell me much more than “that’s just the number we are using right now.” He would not speculate about what’s behind the number, but did stress that there are “more” than 150 million searches a day.

In the absence of something more concrete, here are some hypotheses about why Google hasn’t updated the number:

a) Google no longer watches this metric. This seems unlikely, since the “more than 150 million search queries per day” boast remains prominent on Google’s scrupulously maintained site. Moreover, this metric was updated regularly while it was growing.

b) The number of daily queries has not changed or has underperformed other top-tier Internet service providers. It is (barely) possible that Google, focused on generating revenues, views the raw volume of searches as a distraction and an expense. More searches mean more servers, not necessarily more revenues. Having honed its search technology, Google’s engineers spent the last year on projects like Adwords and enterprise search solutions. (If the raw search count is no longer a core metric for Google management, this is bad news for users; it means management no longer focuses on improving our experience and growing usage.)

c) Daily searches have grown (or even exploded), but Google does not publicize the new tally either because it would tip off the competition or because Google is saving news of a big spike for use in the build-up to its long-expected IPO.

My money is on (c). First, Google is persistently focused on improving user experience so usage has probably grown in line with that seen at other top-quality sites. Second, my company’s newspaper and magazine clients saw 50%+ growth in the number of visitors refered by Google over the last year.

Sure the 150 million a day figure is impressive. I quote it nearly every day in conversations with publishers. But isn’t it time to update the figure?

(Postscript: Here’s a brief time-line of the “150 million searches” factoid. When I looked at the same Google page back in April for this story looking at the raw data behind Google Zeitgeist, the number was… “more than 150 million.” This USA Today article written in January 2001 (found courtesy of Google, of course) uses 150 million also. And here’s the cache of a Boston Herald article from last December cites 150 million daily searches. I can’t find earlier examples of the number.)

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