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Dueling Stats: Yahoo, Google Vie For Top Site

Call it a photo finish. A split decision. Too close to call: The leading online tracking firms are split over which Web property garners the most traffic.

According to comScore, Yahoo -- perennially ranked as the most visited destination on the Web -- held onto its lead in December, staving off surging Google for at least another month.

Yahoo sites pulled in 136.6 million unique visitors in December, beating out Google, whose Web properties came up just shy of 133 million unique, comScore reported.

But look at the figures from Nielsen Online, and it's a different story. Google tops Nielsen's lists of the top 10 Web sites both by parent company and by brand.

Nielsen defines a parent company as the consolidation of Web sites owned by a single company. By this measure, Google's sites drew the most traffic in December, with 124.6 million unique visitors. Microsoft then followed with 123 million, wile Yahoo came in third with 114 million.

By brand, which Nielsen defines as all Web properties bearing consistently branded content, Google was still the top destination, but Yahoo ranked second, followed by Microsoft.

comScore's top 10 Web properties during December
(Includes home, work and university users)

  1. Yahoo sites (136.6 million uniques)
  2. Google sites (133 million)
  3. Microsoft sites (120 million)
  4. Time Warner Network (119.5 million)
  5. Fox Interactive (82 million)
  6. eBay (80 million)
  7. Amazon sites (65 million)
  8. Wikipedia sites (52 million)
  9. Ask Network (49.5 million)
  10. Apple Inc. (47.7 million)

The disparity likely resulted from Nielsen ranking Microsoft and MSN/Windows Live as separate entities in its list of branded sites.

Nielsen Analyst Suzy Bausch told InternetNews.com that Google has topped the traffic rankings by brand since March 2007.

Allowing for nuanced differences in methodologies, the two research firms are measuring the same thing. Their leaderboards might look a little different, and Nielsen's numbers trend a little lower than comScore's, but both firms' analyses highlight Google's success in expanding itself into a portal.

Though industry commentators and analysts frequently take shots at Yahoo for falling behind Google in search, innovation, market capitalization and other barometers of the companies' vitality, Yahoo has always been able to counter that it's still the most popular site on the Web.

Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang certainly took that approach last week at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. During his keynote address, he trumpeted Yahoo's unmatched popularity as a portal while repeatedly articulating his vision for the company as the premier jump-off point for the Internet.

Nielsen's top 10 Web properties during December, by parent
(Includes home and work users)

  1. Google sites (117.7 million)
  2. Microsoft sites (123 million)
  3. Yahoo sites (114 million)
  4. Time Warner (106 million)
  5. News Corp. Online (76.3 million)
  6. eBay (67.4 million)
  7. Amazon (65.4 million)
  8. InterActiveCorp (64 million)
  9. Apple Computer (50.7 million)
  10. Wikimedia Foundation (50.5 million)

But the recent batch of tracking data suggests that the distance separating Yahoo from Google is narrowing -- or widening, depending on whose numbers you're looking at.

By comScore's numbers, which paint the more optimistic picture of Yahoo's market share as a portal, the gap between the two Web titans tightened considerably in the last year.

In December 2006, comScore tracked 18.6 million more visitors to Yahoo sites than to Google's Web properties. Last month, Yahoo bested Google by just 3.7 million visitors. One is only left to wonder what story the numbers will tell a year from now.