Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Searching online

I'm sharing an article by my favorite webdesigner/internet consultant again.

What Are We Searching For?

Just face it - the internet is part of our lives. Yes, there are some of us that do not have an e-mail address, and there are some that have never been online at all, but those folks are getting harder and harder to find. For the rest of us, the internet is getting to be pretty routine stuff…but what are we doing while we gaze into that rectangular piece of glass or plastic and type or scroll, or click, or wheel, or point?

A recent survey of over 2000 adults produced some interesting statistics in answer to that very question. Playing Texas Holdem? Buying new cars? Hooking up with a long lost sweetheart or a new one? We (you) may not be doing just what you (we) thought. No, real life is not what the headlines might portray, and with a quarter of us spending more than 22 hours online every week that’s a good thing.

Not surprisingly, the single most common use of the internet for most of us is connecting to each other though e-mail. Full 87% of us send/receive e-mail most/every time we go online. And guess which gender does the most of that? Yes, the ladies are in the lead when it comes to communicating on the internet just like all mediums throughout history. Interestingly, no other internet activity was skewed significantly to one gender or the other except for e-mail usage. The next most frequent reason that we go online is to wander aimlessly it seems. Over 55% of us surf with no specific motive in mind most/every time we go online. Don’t know about you, I found that quite surprising. Good thing we don’t drive with the same lack of intention, especially with the price of gas. The next most common online activity was search, and that is the primary subject of this column. It’s important at this point, to differentiate search from surf. The 55% number above represents those folks who just click on the first thing that catches their interest of the moment, and they’ve begun a journey winding through whatever links and connections present themselves. But let’s look closer at searchers who we’ll define as those who input a word, term, or phrase in a search engine in order to be presented with information specific to that input. Specific mission in mind; goal; interest…you get the idea.

So what are we all looking for? #1 is research (88% of those polled). The topics vary of course (the internet is infinite you know), but think research, education, knowledge. Most common research topics in order: Hobbies, Health/Medical, followed by job/career search; not headline material, but very respectable stuff. The #2 online activity is obtaining maps and directions at 75% (yes even men, though to a slightly lesser extent than women of course). 3rd is news/current events and further details of the study showed it is primarily to get differing viewpoints on issues. A surprising 54% use the internet instead of a phonebook to look up people and/or businesses, and a majority of that for local as opposed to non-local businesses. Business owners, make sure you have an online presence! Shopping made the list at #6 with roughly half looking for local retail where they can buy the product.

What about the search engines? Who is using what? According to comScore’s most recent data, Google handles 42% of our searches vs. 28% for Yahoo and 13.2% for MSN leaving the rest to the several hundred others combined. But…those polled showed surprisingly little loyalty with only 13% claiming to use Google exclusively, 11% for AOL, 10% for MSN, and 7% for Yahoo. In other words, most of us are comfortable using a variety of search engines depending on circumstances, and what we are looking for.

One last set of results caught my attention, and that is that a surprising 56% of online users said they do not know the difference between sponsored (paid) and natural (unpaid) listings and fully one half of the ones that do understand the difference either don’t care, or actually prefer the paid listings to the natural. So for the time being, advertisers can enjoy a preferred position with 75% of the online population.

Well, the internet is settling down into a pretty mundane part of our being just 20 years into its existence; useful and respectable. Don’t confuse that with stagnation though. It is changing and moving faster than oil through a goose, and there is nothing mundane about that!

*Survey done in April 2005 by Harris Interactive for icrossing. Complete report available on request.

John Geiger, owner of Webmasters ICE, has over five years experience helping small and medium-sized companies and organizations capitalize on the power of the internet through consulting, education, and supporting products and services. His focus and passion is the use of the internet in providing more effective overall marketing strategies and highly measurable levels of marketing success. http://www.webmastersice.com/

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