Understanding clicks from referrals and how they can distort search engine market share


As all search marketers know, the number of clicks is a key parameter for measuring search traffic, but click counting can be a complicated task. Not all clicks are the same There are paid clicks. There are organic clicks. There are mobile clicks. And it often happens that clicks are quickly redirected without the user's noticing them. These redirected clicks can lead to discrepancies and confusion in click reports.

Consider this: a recent StatCounter article shows a market share of 88.37% on search engines and 6.07% in Bing. At the same time, other sites, such as Statista, display Google at 62.5% and Microsoft sites (Bing) at 25%. And even another site, comScore, places U.S. Bing's share at 36% on PC and 20% on all devices. Why are such large gaps? What is the driving force behind the confusion? The answer requires an understanding of the mechanisms of ad serving and referrals to the web.

Referrals are links that drive traffic to other websites and allow users to move. A referring site is simply the site on which a person was just before going to your page. But sometimes referring sites are poorly represented. A click can be redirected to an ad server, then quickly redirected to your page. Take the example of retailer Kohls. A person navigates on the Kohls website and clicks on the image of a TAG Heuer watch:

From a user experience, this user travels directly from the Kohls website to the TAG website. And yet, on paper, the click of the sponsor is credited on Google. Why is it? Thanks to Google's AdSense program, Kohl's click is quickly redirected to Google's ad server before going to tagheuer.com. The reference to clicks is attributed to Google and not to Kohl's. Clicks generated by ad servers may add up and distort market share, even if they are not direct search queries from a search engine.

It is good to understand how sites such as StatCounter or JumpShot calculate their data by combining search engine references with ads. from syndicated websites in their reference metrics. The sponsor can be rich in insightful information, but must be carefully analyzed and understood before any optimization or business decision. Search engine marketers also need to be alert to referrals about clicks on referrals, as clicks often do not go beyond what we see.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the invited author and not necessarily those of the search engine. Associated authors are listed here .


About the Author

Christi Olson is a research evangelist at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington. For more than a decade, Christi has been a student and practitioner of SEM. Prior to joining the Bing Ads team at Microsoft, Christi worked in internal marketing and at Point It, Expedia, Harry & David, and Microsoft agencies (MSN, Bing, Windows). When she's not passionate about research and digital marketing, she finds herself with her husband at ACUO crossfit and races across the PacificNW, brewing and trying to find the perfect beer, and taking many walks with their two schnauzers and pug.



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