Understanding referrer clicks and how they can skew search engine market share

Understanding referrer clicks and how they can skew search engine market share

November 13, 2019 Off By esential1@

As every search marketer knows, clicks are a key metric in measuring search traffic, yet counting clicks can be a complicated thing. All clicks are not the same. There are paid clicks. There are organic clicks. There are mobile clicks. And many times there are clicks that get quickly redirected in the blink of an eye without a user even realizing it. These redirected clicks can cause discrepancies and confusion in click reports.

Consider this: a recent post from StatCounter shows a search engine market share of Google 88.37% and Bing 6.07%. At the same time, other sites such as Statista, show Google at 62.5% with Microsoft sites (Bing) at 25%. And even another site, comScore, places U.S. Bing share at 36% on PC and 20% across all devices. Why such large discrepancies? What is driving the confusion? The answer requires an understanding of the mechanics of ad serving and web referrals.

Referrers are links that drive traffic to other websites, moving people around the internet. A referrer site is simply the site that a person was on right before they came to your page. But sometimes referrer sites get misrepresented. A click can get diverted to an ad server, then quickly redirected to your page. Take for example the retailer, Kohls. A person is surfing the Kohls website and clicks on a picture of a TAG Heuer watch:

From a user experience, this shopper goes directly from the Kohls website to TAG’s website. And yet on paper, the referrer click gets credited to Google. Why is this? Through Google’s AdSense program, the click from Kohl’s gets quickly redirected to Google’s ad server before going to tagheuer.com. The click referral is attributed to Google not Kohl’s. The clicks from ad servers can add up and skew market share, even though these are not direct search queries from a search engine.

It’s good to understand how sites such as StatCounter or JumpShot calculate their data by combining search engine referrals with ads from syndicated websites in their referrer metrics. Referrer can be rich with insightful information, but should be carefully analyzed and understood before making any optimization or business decisions. Search marketers should also stay vigilant for redirects on referrer click reports as often times there is more to a click than meets the eye.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

​Christi Olson is a Search Evangelist at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington. For over a decade Christi has been a student and practitioner of SEM. Prior to joining the Bing Ads team within Microsoft, Christi worked in marketing both in-house and at agencies at Point It, Expedia, Harry & David, and Microsoft (MSN, Bing, Windows). When she’s not geeking out about search and digital marketing she can be found with her husband at ACUO crossfit and running races across the PacificNW, brewing and trying to find the perfect beer, and going for lots of walks with their two schnauzers and pug.