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Side Effect of Chrome’s Popularity

June 12th, 2014 by Erick Beck

In case you missed it, news from a couple weeks ago was that Google’s Chrome browser has overtaken Internet Explorer as the world’s most popular browser. The margin was razor thin… so much so that the pundits are still arguing different interpretations of the numbers, and Microsoft not surprisingly rejects them outright. This shift in leadership means more to us as web developers than mere bragging rights though.

Yes, vendors to listen

First, and most obviously, it is a signal that the vendors do listen to the public. Having a light weight browser that gets out of your way lets the user focus on their content without being distracted by the software that they are reading it in. That in itself is a dramatic shift from the early days. They have also listened to us web developer and our demand for supporting common web standards. While there are still variations between browser, even the latest versions of IE do a good job of interpreting our code.

Supporting the shift to mobile

The second thing that we can learn from this leadership shift is that the transition from desktop to mobile web browsing is real. Chrome is not the most used browser on any one platform — IE still dominates the desktop, and Safari is number one on mobile devices. However, IE has a negligible share of the mobile market and Safari is weak on the PC and Android platforms. Combining desktop usage with the increased number of Android devices gives Chrome the overall lead.

(Note, in many respects this is all semantics. Safari and Chrome are both based on the webkit engine. When we look at this level rather than the browsers’ branded names, webkit browsers have had a bigger market share than the MSHTML (IE) and Gecko (Firefox) engines for almost a year.)

Effect on search analytics

Most people who use Chrome also use GMail. Google makes it extremely easy for the GMail log in to also log you into Chrome. A significant, and growing, number of Chrome users browse (sometimes without even realizing it) in this logged in status. This leads to an interesting side effect of Chrome’s popularity…affecting our search analytics. Normally when somebody uses a search engine the query keywords they searched for are passed along and can be ready by analytics programs. However, when somebody who is logged in to Chrome does a search, Google will not pass along the query terms.

We are seeing the effects of this quite dramatically. Across all of our sites “Not Provided” by far overshadows the most popular search term that is listed. There are, of course, other reasons the query string won’t be provided, but is likely isn’t a coincidence that these numbers have grown along with the popularity of Chrome.

Thursday, June 12th, 2014 Miscellaneous
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