ComScore in an effort to allay the concerns of Google, which is likely to be a massive customer, may be opening the door for further questioning of its data.
In a blog post on Friday, comScore tried to put its finding that Google paid clicks were flat (actually down a smidge) in January (Techmeme). If you recall, Google shares were crushed on the news.
ComScore writes in a riff that was likely inspired by a call from Google:
Earlier this week, comScore released its January 2008 qSearch paid click report, which showed a 7% sequential decline vs. December ‘07, and a flat annual growth in paid clicks for Google. Moreover, the number of paid clicks per Google search query declined by 8% from December to January, suggesting that consumers are clicking less on search ads, possibly reflecting a weaker buying appetite. The information triggered a flurry of reactions in the media and the financial community that centered on two concerns: 1) a potentially weak first quarter outlook for Google, and 2) an indication that a soft U.S. economy is beginning to drag down the online advertising market.
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. In addition, the reduction in the incidence of paid listings existed progressively throughout 2007 and was successfully offset by improved revenue per click. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that the improved revenue yield will continue to deliver strong revenue growth in the first quarter. Separately, there is no evidence of a slowdown in consumers clicking on paid search ads for rest of the US search market, which comprises 40% of all searches.
That language from comScore is notable. The takeaways:
That's a lot of tap-dancing folks. And to make matters worse this tap dancing in the name of protecting Google is downright dangerous to comScore's business. The dirty little secret in the Web business is that a lot of folks aren't so enamored with comScore's data. I've questioned it openly. I simply don't buy the panel model.
But by trying to explain its data better in a thinly veiled attempt to undo Google's hit comScore is showing it will budge if the customer is big enough and pissed enough. Guess what happens next time comScore's data doesn't help out a big Internet giant? You got it. More questions. More calls from customers. And more questions about the underlying data. The future mission: Get comScore to backtrack on its data that you don't agree with.
It's a dangerous cycle. And comScore just opened up a Pandora's Box.