Fun with numbers a boon for StatCounter

The Web-tracking service claims IE market share has dropped off since March, but should we believe the numbers?

Larry Dignan
2 min read
This was originally posted at ZDNet's Between the Lines.

If you've been following the headlines of late you'll find that StatCounter's research arm, a Web tracking service most Webheads are familiar with, has gone from afterthought to player in just a few short months.

Credit a few handy Bing-happy press releases and handy browser market share stats.

There's a good bit of hubbub about IE market share, which has dropped off since March (Techmeme). The big question is whether we should believe the numbers (below is the year over year trends).


Let's look at the methodology and history of StatCounter's research effort. StatCounter launched its Global Stats service in March. The service primarily measures search, browsers and operating systems.

Here's how StatCounter compiles its states. It tracks its 2 million members globally with 40 percent of that total in the U.S. and 25 percent in Europe. Overall, StatCounter analyzes about 4 billion page loads a month.

The sample certainly sounds large enough to be valid. However, Net Applications, which has been a go-to browser market share tracker, has said it its analyzing "some significant variations in browser and operating system statistics" for June. It remains to be seen whether Net Applications will verify what StatCounter is claiming for IE market share.

Net Applications has this to say about its methodology:

We use a unique methodology for collecting this data. We collect data from the browsers of site visitors to our exclusive on-demand network of live stats customers. The data is compiled from approximately 160 million visitors per month. The information published is an aggregate of the data from this network of hosted website statistics. The site unique visitor and referral information is summarized on a monthly, weekly, daily and hourly basis.

Meanwhile, a statement from Net Applications gives another reason to be mildly skeptical about writing that obit for IE market share. Apparently, IE 8's compatibility mode with IE 7 has lead to some underreporting of IE 8 market share. This wrinkle basically means IE 7 historically got more market share.

Simply put, there enough wrinkles out there to have some healthy skepticism for now about rapid fire market share claims. For instance, StatCounter was claiming Bing made market share gains in its early days. The rub: Bing's market share success will be measured in months and years not days. In the meantime, StatCounter is happy to detail Bing's loss of momentum too.

Perhaps IE's market share has collapsed, but a cross section of data from multiple sources--including panel approaches from comScore and Nielsen--would be helpful.