Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What's fuelling the appeal of Google Earth?

A few weeks ago, I noticed that searches for 'google earth' had spiked up and that the term was amongst the highest volume search terms in the UK. Today, I noticed that the term had continued to climb, with 'google earth' ranking eigth based on share of UK internet searches in the past four weeks. I played extensively with Google Earth over the summer and we [Hitwise] did a news release on Google Earth and Google Maps several months ago. Google Earth seemed like old news to me - but it seems I was wrong.

The share of UK internet searches for 'google earth' were 23 times higher than searches for 'paris hilton' last week. I often use Paris Hilton as my benchmark - as she is consistently one of the most searched for celebrities on the internet. (In case you think that Paris Hilton is a bit dated, the chart below compares searches for 'google earth' to both 'paris hilton' and 'george galloway'.)

UK searches for 'google earth' were so high last week that they even outstripped other mainstays at the top of the search term rankings, including 'ryanair', 'tesco' and 'bbc'. In fact, the share of UK internet searches for 'google earth' was higher than searches for 'google'!

Hitwise tracks visits to websites and so tracks visits to not to the downloaded software. Hitwise is therefore reporting on visits to the website, where people can download the software, rather than usage of the satellite image software that is downloaded to desktops. Visits to the site are way up and so we can assume that downloads are also up. Market share of visits to increased 24% last week compared with the week previous and three times higher than they were 12 weeks ago.

But why?

I looked at Hitwise data to try to understand the reasons for the growth in searches and visits. It seems the growth is viral - driven by people talking up the service. Google Earth receives 58% of its visits from Google (combined UK and .com properties) and the term 'google earth' accounts for more than 60% of visits from search.

Google Earth also seems to appeal to an interesting and somewhat surprising demographic: Silver Surfers. Nearly one quarter (24.34%) of visits to Google Earth are from those aged 55+. Google Earth attracts 70% more visits from the 55+ age category than average for the internet.

I asked some colleagues if they had any ideas to explain Google Earth's recent growth. It seems that everyone has a story about an aunt, uncle, parent or grandparent using Google Earth. Uncles who collect atlases, mothers who want to see (the roof of) their daughter's new flat, fathers who want to tinker with a cool toy. Stories abound, all with one theme - all were about relatives aged 55+.

I also looked at Hitwise Lifestyle data to see which Mosaic Types are visiting Google Earth. The groups that were most highly indexed versus the online population on Google Earth were: Golden Empty Nesters, Conservative Values, Provincial Priviledge, and High Spending Elders. I won't go into a detailed description of these, but suffice it to say that these are older, wealthy segments.

If you have other thoughts on the reason for the continuing rise of Google Earth, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Heather Hopkins, director of research at online analysts, Hitwise

Read more from Heather here


John Warren said...

Thomson Holidays is using Google Earth as a gimmick on its website, and people have to download GE (free) from the Thomson site to enable it.
This may account for some of the rise . . .

Matchmaker86 said...

I think you are right John, looking at hitwise appears as one of the top referrers of traffic to

Anonymous said...

I read about this in the Times last week.

Times travel supp 12th Feb

Thomson is offering holidays in cyberspace in an innovative collaboration with the search-engine giant Google. Visitors to the package operator’s website, can download Google Earth — the hugely addictive global-imaging application — for free, then add the Thomson overlay.

You can then search the 3-D globe for information on holiday destinations from Lanzarote to Lima — and look into your neighbour’s garden.