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2/1/2012
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Google Chrome Market Share Slip: Self-Inflicted?

After two straight years of growth, Google's Chrome browser saw its global market share slip in January. A self-imposed penalty may figure in these results.

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Google's Chrome browser has been becoming more popular, but it appears to have hit a wall last month. After gaining global market share every month for two straight years, Chrome usage slipped in January.

Chrome's share of global browser usage, as measured by NetApplications, fell from 19.11% to 18.94%. That's not a huge reversal, but it's noteworthy because Chrome has risen so consistently and rapidly, a testament both to the technical merits of the browser and to the marketing muscle Google has used to promote Chrome.

It's also noteworthy because Google itself might be to blame, or so NetApplications suggests by pointing to a minor advertising scandal that came to light in early January.

At the beginning of that month, two search marketing news sites identified a series of Google-sponsored blog posts that violated Google's webmaster guidelines.

[How did President Obama do in his first Google+ Hangout? Read Obama's Google+ Debut: Lessons Learned.]

Though the marketing firms involved took responsibility for the campaigns and said that Google had not directed them to violate its policies, Google applied a search penalty to Chrome's Web pages. The company does not want to lend credence to claims by rivals that it favors its own products, a charge anti-trust authorities are currently investigating.

The penalty, reportedly in effect for 60 days, has reduced the Google PageRank of Chrome pages, making information about Chrome and download links for the browser less likely to appear at the top of Google search result lists.

With less visibility in Google Search, Chrome appears to be attracting fewer new users. Google did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the possible correlation.

Chrome's loss, and a similar decline for Firefox, coincided with gains for Internet Explorer. Microsoft's browsers, collectively, accounted for 52.96% of global browser usage in January, up from 51.87% in December, 2011, according to NetApplications.

Such statistics, however, should be taken with a grain of salt: According to StatCounter, another Internet metrics firm, Chrome usage grew in January, from 27.7% to 28.4%, while Internet Explorer continued its long decline.

During Google's Q3 2011 earnings conference call, Google CEO Larry Page in October, 2011, said that Chrome has reached 200 million million users, up from 160 million in May, 2011--healthy growth by any standard. Three months later on Google's Q4 2011 conference call, Page said, "Chrome is on fire." But he did not provide any metrics by which one might gauge that flame.

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