In her profile of tennis star and celebrity Maria Sharapova for the New York Times, writer Karen Crouse cites Sharapova's volume of Yahoo! searches as proof of her popularity.
Last year, she was the second-most-popular sports entity among Yahoo searchers, behind Nascar and ahead of the Boston Red Sox, David Beckham and Serena Williams.
No doubt search volume isn't a bad indicator, but according to ComScore as of September 2007 Google has a 57 percent share of the search market, more than Yahoo!'s 23.7 percent. So why pull the statistic from Yahoo! vs. Google? Google doesn't make it easy to get that information, while Yahoo! provides a handy dashboard that allows you to follow search popularity like the stock market, even showing daily change and the biggest movers. It is just a glimpse of their data set, but it is smart marketing on the part of Yahoo!
Google, ever the pure developer, has some great stuff in this area as well but it is hidden in Google Labs. Try and find it from their home page and let me know how long it took you. You may be better of searching for it. One of my favorite tools, Google Trends, tells a different, and more detailed story. In 2007 David Beckham far outperformed Maria Sharapova in global search volume except in Pakistan and India, where Sharapova outperformed. She is particularly popular in Delhi. Google Trends also indicates where news coverage coincides with spikes in search volume. In January, June, and September search volume for Sharapova outperformed Beckham, which no surprise coincides with Wimbledon, the French Open, and the U.S. Open.
There are other online indicators of individual popularity. One is simply how much content on the Internet is dedicated to the person in question. A fun tool for exploring that is Google Fight. Enter two names and see them fight it out for dominance.
Google Fight shows us another view. More people may search for Maria Sharapova on Yahoo!, but she only generates 313,000 search results on Google. Serena Williams generates 3.3 million, and David Beckham 9.5 million.
It is a copy and paste world, and when people quote statistics it is important to understand the source. In this case it doesn't impact the story one bit. Sharapova is more popular on Yahoo!, but she isn't more searched for globally.