Understanding Browser Usage Share Data

Understanding Browser Usage Share Data

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Every month the industry has a standing news cycle that reports on the latest browser market share numbers and each month we provide an update on how we are doing against our goal: the growth of IE9 on Windows 7. As we prepare these updates, we and others in the industry often see trends in the data that are worth exploring. This has been the case over the past few months as the effect of geoweighting and other factors, such as prerendering, on usage data has become increasingly clear.

There are currently two primary sources for share data: Net Applications and StatCounter. While both provide detailed browser usage data, the two are very different when it comes to methodologies and results. Often they show the same general trends, but the overall share numbers they provide for each browser are significantly different. Members of the technology community have begun to pick up on this as they’ve discussed share over the last year, often raising the question of which data source is more reliable. For example, some industry experts have begun to question how much share Chrome really has in the market based on discrepancies in the data.

Looking at the differences in how monitoring firms measure market share can help explain these differences in share and also underscore why we look to Net Applications to track how customers are using our products.

Two different methodologies to measure browser share

1. Real usage versus prerendered non-usage share. Starting in June of last year with Chrome v13, Chrome began “prerendering” certain web pages in Chrome. With prerendering, Chrome is opening separate Chrome tabs based on user search queries at Google.com or from Chrome’s Omnibox that are invisible to the user. If the user then clicks these search links, then the tab and page will display. However, a certain portion of these links will never be clicked and the user will never see them – remaining invisible to them and therefore not real user page views of those prerendered sites. Last month, Net Applications began removing Chrome prerendered browsing traffic from its statistics, noting that “prerendering in February 2012 accounted for 4.3% of Chrome's daily unique visitors.” In doing so Net Applications became the first company to adjust its data reports for websites Chrome users never visited. At least one writer noted “analytics companies that don't take into account pre-rendering may be inflating Chrome numbers.” One such company is StatCounter, who simply publishes their data as they record it, without any adjustment for prerendering. NOTE:  StatCounter recently announced that they have updated their data as of May 1, 2012 to reflect prerendering in Chrome.  However, there is no indication of either methodology or what percentage of Chrome share is being removed from StatCounter data.

2. Geoweighting of browser usage based on real world internet populations. Most browser analytics companies that report browser usage do so based on a network of partner sites that help provide them that data, but only one – Net Applications – does “geoweighting” of that data. As Net Applications explains:

The Net Market Share data is weighted by country. We compare our traffic to the CIA Internet Traffic by Country table, and weight our data accordingly. For example, if our global data shows that Brazil represents 2% of our traffic, and the CIA table shows Brazil to represent 4% of global Internet traffic, we will count each unique visitor from Brazil twice. This is done to balance out our global data. All regions have differing markets, and if our traffic were concentrated in one or more regions, our global data would be inappropriately affected by those regions. Country level weighting removes any bias by region.

This is absolutely critical to us in understanding what IE share is worldwide so we can better serve our customers. StatCounter, on the other hand, does not do geo or country level weighting. They simply report absolute global page views. As StatCounter notes:

We do not manipulate the data in any way. We do not collate it with any other information sources. No artificial weightings are used. We simply publish the data as we record it.

This factors heavily into the disparate numbers from Net Applications and StatCounter, since StatCounter’s data is entirely beholden to the coverage of its sites. To better understand what this means, we ran some models.

Net Applications does its country weighting based on public CIA data of worldwide internet users by country. This was an adjustment they started some years ago in an effort to build a more accurate view of the world’s browser traffic, OS usage, search usage, etc. Below is the current CIA weighting for the top 15 countries in the world.

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Source: The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency.

By reporting just traffic, StatCounter instead relies on the location and web traffic of its partner sites versus affording any weight to how many people are actually on the internet in that country. StatCounter recently released that sample size by country for the month of January 2012 for total web page hits.

image

Sources:  The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency; StatCounter, January 2012.

You’ll notice some pretty big differences in the weighting of StatCounter versus Net Applications. First and foremost, the most populous country in the world, China, doesn’t make the top 20 for StatCounter, when in fact it represents the world’s largest internet population. Japan, a country that represents the number three country in the world in terms of internet users, barely makes the top 30.

How does this happen? StatCounter only uses total pages views by country, and that number is only as good as the site coverage they have in any given country. That explains why Turkey, a country that is 15th in the world in terms of internet population, is the number two country in the world based on StatCounter’s data sources.

image

Sources: The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency; StatCounter, January 2012.

So how does this actually affect StatCounter’s reporting of worldwide browser share? We took a look at StatCounter’s publicly reported worldwide share for February. This is a February report on share and represents a measurement model where not even 1 in 20 Chinese users are counted in determining worldwide browser share. Or where worldwide share is based on a ranking where the United States represents a disproportionate number internet browser share - 24% versus the 13% of the world’s internet population it truly represents.

To further explore this problem, we re-ran the StatCounter numbers and weighted their publicly reported individual country browser share numbers by the CIA internet population data. This calculation would then represent a true country or geo-weighted view of worldwide browser data based on the actual world’s internet population.

imageimage

image

Sources: The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency; StatCounter, February 2012.

The difference in reporting of share is stark. This geoweighted view shows that Internet Explorer is under-reported by 9% when real, actual internet populations are not considered. Chrome is over-reported by almost 6%. Firefox is over-reported by 3%.

We used the public CIA country data for this analysis. You could of course use other data sources available to you to account for real world internet population, but however you look at this, the discrepancy in numbers is substantial and helps to explain how two different data providers – Net Applications and StatCounter – can present two very different views of the world’s browser share.

3. Unique visitors versus absolute page views. One last difference between Net Applications and StatCounter is that while StatCounter only reports absolute page hits without any filtering, Net Applications actually reports usage share based on unique visitors. It is this type of analysis that allows them to achieve more accurate representations of browsing habits and actual usage by removing Chrome prerendering traffic (4.3% last month) in an effort to separate real page views from invisible page views. It is also seen as a more accurate way to determine actual browser usage because it is less susceptible to fraud. Wikipedia notes “Measuring browser usage in the number of requests (page hits) made by each user agent can be misleading.” It can lead to overestimation and even fraud in the case of bots that will register large numbers of web page hits. More information is available here at Wikipedia.

Getting closer to the truth on browser share

Certainly there is no perfect way to measure browser share at a worldwide level. This is why we focus on utilizing the data that provides the most accurate representation of actual usage share around the world. While both Net Applications and StatCounter often show similar trends, it’s important to note that certain steps must be taken to represent accurate quantitative assessments of worldwide usage share.

Roger Capriotti
Director, Internet Explorer Product Marketing

17 Comments
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  • rubisco
    1 Posts

    IE is dying because it is a very lousy browser. I am working as a webprogrammer for over a decade and it was always the same: All browsers worked as expected (mostly), except one: IE, be it 6,7,8 or even 9. For example, there is no text shadow in IE9 - WTF!. How can you? Making workarounds for IE costed me probably up to 30% of projecttime, maybe even  more. Who will ever pay for that?

    There are really good browsers out there, like Firefox and of course Chrome. And most fascinating for me: even though Microsoft preinstalls IE, knowing that many 'normal' people use what comes with the system and do not spend time searching for other browsers, Chrome is gaining more and more popularity. Thank you normal people for waking up, really.

    To badmouth a statistics company when IE is not the leading browser is a very, very poor behaviour.

    Why don´t you concentrate on making a good OS and Office Apps and support those, who really care about making standard conform browsers?

  • mlauzon
    3 Posts

    Well, you've been proven wrong!:

    gs.statcounter.com/.../open-letter-ms

  • Ultimately, whether the stats that appear all over the place are accurate or not, the reality and trend are pretty clear: IE will get behind because others propose better alternatives.

    Internet Explorer has been the most widely used Web Browser for so long mainly because it was the default that was forced upon a vast majority of end users that just didn't care much. This abuse of dominant position was somehow tackled with the browser choice that was forced upon Microsoft.

    Because of the fact that the market share was already acquired, Microsoft didn't push very hard to innovate. This opened the door for others to innovate and make the Web move forward. Mozilla, the guys behind WebKit, Chromium, Google Chrome & many others did a really awesome job and little by little they made many people realize that alternatives existed and were worthy of their time. They just changed the Web and made people lives less painful and not only for end users! Combine that with the Web exponential expansion, the social networks explosion and you get the current situation where people make more informed decisions about which browser to use.

    What we're seeing now is that no matter how Microsoft presents it, IE stays behind on many levels (Web standards compliancy, openness, etc). Others have taken the lead and are innovating like there's no tomorrow hand in hand with the W3C & WhatWG groups.

    Now I don't want to keep bashing Microsoft, I know that they're participating a lot more for interoperability and standards. They're even one of the top contributors on the Linux kernel (which may come as a surprise to many), but the current trend is just the result the many years during which Microsoft just took advantage of its leading position in the browser market.

    Now with IE8, IE9 and soon IE10, we can clearly see that the browser has gained a lot more importance for Microsoft and that they really care now but for the time being, my impression is that Microsoft is just running behind a train running at full steam and trying to hop back on it.

    IE9 felt better, but I think that for Web developers it has nevertheless been disappointing regarding Web standards compatibility. IE10 is clearly on the right way but still, when you compare the HTML 5 compatibility test results, even IE10 (with the information currently available) stays way behind the others: html5test.com/.../desktop.html

    And also the update model (once every X years) is not sustainable anymore, it just pleases enterprises because they feel like there's something stable (and that also prevents them from updating regularly enough and thus hinders innovation).

    In my enterprise, we've decided to switch to Google Chrome as the default/recommended browser and with the current state of things, I think that we've made a great choice but we may take another look at it in a few years.

    Please Microsoft continue investing more and more in the open Web, everyone benefits from it in the end.

  • The function of IE and Bing should be to keep Chrome and Mozilla "honest" about Windows 8 and Windows 8 Metro.

  • Microsoft needs to have her priorities straight.

    Microsoft's priority is Windows 8 Metro and NOT IE. IE IS FLUFF.

    Chrome will overtake IE sooner or later because Chrome is updated at twice or thrice the speed of IE. That is NOT bad for Microsoft as long as Chrome helps Windows 8 and specifically Windows 8 Metro.

    Bing is dying technology. Let Google have all the search money she wants as long as Chrome helps Windows 8 and specifically Windows 8 Metro.

  • Nathan
    63 Posts

    Besides [IE-amnesia]** problem few others, IE have recovered alot. Probably, there might be a chance that a person quit using Chrome and opt into the IE solely..

    Used IE10 in Windows 8... found 2 problems

    1. This Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/.../2012_ATP_World_Tour is consistently crashing desktop IE10 on Windows 8 Consumer Preview in standards mode. Doesn't crash in compatibility view. Can the IE team repro the crash? I have no addons installed.

    [IE-amnesia]**

    2. In IE9 and IE10, if the system shutdown unexpectedly (like take off the battery of laptop or pull out the power plug of desktop on the running system while having multiple IE9/10 tabs), on next reboot the IE9 in Windows7 and IE10 in Windows8 will forget the saved passwords, such as Gmail, Hotmail and other user preferences such as Bing region. My region is Australia. So by default it opens the Australia page. But if I change it to US-English and restart the computer it always remember my preference. But the unexpected shutdown flashes the saved preferences!! FF remembers that of Bing, Hotmail, Gmail (..yada yada) even the system shutdown abruptly, crash unexpectedly or for any reason (without saving settings.. you can reproduce it very easily!)...

  • mlauzon
    3 Posts

    prtpay,

    That browser IS NOT done by Mozilla, it's done by a company called Hidden Reflex based on Firefox, do some research before you make an uninformed post next time!

  • prtpay
    1 Posts

    Today while surfing, I found a new browser called <a href="software-mall.blogspot.com/.../epic-browseer-by-mozila-for-indians.html">"Epic Browser"</a>. Found this quiet bundled with huge gadgets like, tv, radio, news, cricket scores, social chats and many more. It has many regional language option. This is from Mozila. All the Firefox plugins are the same for Epic.

  • I want to use IE9 - believe me - but it drives me crazy. My WordPress 3.1.1 site scores high on compatibility until I try to edit a post. Then link inserts are always placed at the top of the post, no matter where the cursor is. A bunch of things don't work. The only solution is to turn off compatibility back to IE7. At that point my site looks all wrong because we worked to make it compatible with IE9. With Firefox, everything works as intended. Why do I have to suffer to use IE9? What's the point?

  • am hoping IE share grow big, so Microsoft close department of IE again.  browser development not important.  best to  spend resources on the xboxes and zunes, not silly little thing like browser where peoples use to buy the items

  • What a coincidence... this exact posting date of this article,18th of March 2012, was the first day ever that Statcounter shows that Chrome is bigger then IE.... :) :)

  • Sven
    54 Posts

    Yes indeed, lies, damn lies and statistics....What is 2+2? What would you like it to be?

  • joex2
    1 Posts

    mlauzon: "2 browsers are vastly superior to IE9 "

    Firefox vastly superior to IE 9??  please give me a break

  • mlauzon
    3 Posts

    So, how much money did Microsoft throw at Net Applications to skew the results into your favour, when the other 2 browsers are vastly superior to IE9 in every way..?!

  • This figures sound like *Hey developers, keep fixing your site for IE* - *You have an issue, not Microsoft IE*!?

    Mind-washed Microsoft (marketing) PMs with a goal/commitment of "increasing market" share would do just anything but adressing the *core of the problem* to keep stats as required to achieve their personal goals.

    Apparently denial facts (& trends) is continuing since times before Windows Vista. Nothing has changed and form non-change & no-improvement attitude I'm glad I'm not at Microsoft, but I'd rather see a corporate change that would bring real product improvement rather pushing GTM (go to market) goals.

    In other words: An easy solution would be providing a core IEx with standards support also for users of legacy Windows versions. (even for a small fee?) But that's a big NO-NO.

  • Why not release internal IE usage stats, to give us a better picture of actual numbers, rather than having to rely on inaccurate methods from 3rd parties?  Obviously you would not have numbers for FF and Chrome, but releasing IE stats and encouraging Mozilla and Google to do the same could give us a much more realistic picture of the market.

  • This is a very interesting article. Many of these points addressed I've never really given a thought towards.