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Why it may not matter that Yahoo has more visitors than Google

Pyrrhic victory: Yahoo attracted more visitors to its homepage than Google, but that doesn’t include mobile devices.

Yahoo’s homepage drew more visitors than Google in July, says comScore. This could be a sign that Yahoo is winning over new users. But it’s more likely a sign that Yahoo is losing the larger battle for where users are going next: mobile. That’s because the much-ballyhooed numbers from comScore only look at people visiting Yahoo’s homepage from a desktop or notebook PC, and exclude people using smartphones or other mobile devices.

We don’t yet know Yahoo’s numbers on mobile in a way that can be directly compared to Google’s. ComScore has yet to release those numbers from its “forthcoming” multi-platform rankings, which also include mobile traffic. In theory, Yahoo could be gaining in both mobile and desktop users. But that’s unlikely, given that internet users are already shifting from desktop to mobile. In September 2012, total traffic to US search engines from desktop and notebook computers dropped for the first time ever. Meanwhile, mobile internet usage in the US is skyrocketing.

And if Yahoo’s track record is any guide, it’s unlikely that the company is winning the mobile race. Yahoo isn’t known for compelling mobile apps. It also lacks Google’s control of an entire mobile operating system (Android), as well as Google’s status as a default search engine on that operating system, which represents the majority of mobile web traffic in the US (Apple’s iOS).

As users spend more and more of their web-browsing time accessing sites from mobile devices, companies like Google that are successful at following users onto those devices—through various iOS apps and the Android platform itself—are almost certainly seeing a tradeoff between traffic from desktop and mobile users. Just how much mobile is cannibalizing desktop, and who is ahead when the total number of desktop and mobile users are tallied, is what we’re awaiting from comScore.

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