Google's punishment of Chrome drops browser's share, says metrics firm

Microsoft's IE reverses trend, posts biggest-ever one-month usage share gain in January

The browser world turned upside down last month as Internet Explorer's share jumped by its largest-ever increase and Chrome posted its biggest one-month loss, a Web metrics company said today.

Net Applications, which measures browser usage by collating data from some 40,000 sites, attributed the turnabout to Google's self-imposed punishment last month when it downgraded Chrome's search ranking.

Google demoted the PageRank -- the rating Google assigns based on how many other sites link to a URL -- for Chrome's download site after it admitted a marketing campaign had violated the company's own rules against paid links.

Net Applications drew a line between the penalty and Chrome's drop last month, as well as Internet Explorer's (IE) climb. "In January, the upward trend for Chrome halted and Chrome lost [a] 0.17 [percentage point] share on the desktop. Internet Explorer gained 1.1 [point]," said the California company on its website.

Under that theory, by demoting the search ranking of Chrome's download site, Google made it more difficult for users to find, then install the browser.

Chrome ended January with a 18.9% share, down from the previous month's 19.1%. The drop was Chrome's largest since Google launched the browser in September 2008.

Meanwhile, IE boosted its usage share by 1.1 percentage points to close January with a 53% share, a reversal of the long-running trend where Microsoft's browser has consistently lost ground. IE's boost was its largest-ever, according to Net Applications' tracking, and returns the browser to the share it last held in October 2011.

As it has in the past, Microsoft today boasted of IE9's improvement on Windows 7, saying that that edition reached a 36.2% share in the U.S. on the newest version of Windows. It did not comment on the increase of IE overall.

Microsoft has repeatedly said the IE9-on-Windows 7 is the only metric that matters.

According to Net Applications, IE9 climbed by less than two-tenths of a percentage point worldwide on all operating systems, grabbing a 11.6% share.

All of Microsoft's older browsers -- IE8, IE7, even the decade-old IE6 -- also showed gains last month in Net Applications' data. For example, IE6, which Microsoft has been trying to kill for several years, posted an increase of six-tenths of a point to end the month with a 7.9% share.

Unlike IE and Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari did not deviate from their usual performance: Firefox lost nearly a full percentage point, posting a share of 20.8%, its smallest share since October 2008, while Safari fell by less than one-tenth of a point to 4.9%.

The against-the-grain movements tossed some earlier predictions into disarray. Chrome's January decline, for instance, means that at the current pace, it won't replace Firefox as the second-most-used browser until May. That's two months later than a forecast made last month.

But while Net Applications' data told an abnormal story for January, rival metrics firms' take was mixed.

Irish measurement company StatCounter said that IE dropped by 1.2 points to end the month with 37.5%, while Chrome gained 1.1 points to account for 28.4% of all browsers in use.

But Chitika, which mined its ad-serving network for browser usage data, agreed with Net Applications, saying that IE's share grew by 5.6 points to 60.8%, with Chrome falling 2.2 points to 15.3%.

Net Applications calculates browser usage share with data obtained from more than 160 million unique visitors who browse 40,000 Web sites that the company monitors. More browser statistics can be found on the company's site.

Browser share
IE's share gain last month was its largest ever, and will keep Microsoft's browser above the 50% mark until at least August. (Data: Net Applications.)
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