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Internet metrics giant comScore plans to change the way it measures search engine traffic, in response to Yahoo and Bing delivering search results to users who didn’t explicitly ask to run a search.

It used to be that an Internet search meant one thing: A human being typed one or more keywords into a text input form, then submitted it to a search engine. The search engine returned a set of Web pages that hopefully matched what the user was looking for.

Now, search engine makers are inserting search links and search results into other pages, effectively making the user run a search without intentionally typing one in. That’s a problem, because people reading search engine market data may not realize the numbers combine typed-in searches with the additional search links being added by companies.

ComScore executive vice president of analytics Cameron Meierhoefer wrote a blog post on Thursday in which he said the company plans to change its metrics, ideally in the first half of August.

Meierhoefer’s post alludes to “context-driven search experience,” by which he means the automated search links. Business Insider reporter Dan Frommer flat-out calls it “gaming” and says Yahoo and Microsoft are the most conspicuous offenders. Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan said Yahoo’s photo slide shows run up the numbers on what looks like search-box traffic.

Certainly, Bing and Yahoo gained market share in comScore’s May report, but Frommer quotes an analyst who wrote that if you remove the “contextual shortcuts and image slide-shows” from comScore’s data, Bing held steady and Yahoo lost market share.

Frommer summarized, “ComScore’s data — at least before it’s adjusted — is going to be less and less meaningful as search companies continue to put their engines on stilts.”


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