Daily Search Engine Use Still Below 50 Percent

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves here at HotHardware that us editors and our loyal readers do not necessarily represent typical Internet users. Many of us consider ourselves to be "power users," and feel we know how to leverage the available tools to find exactly what we are looking for online. Which is why it came as a surprise to us to learn that on average, "the percentage of internet users who use search engines on a typical day... [is] just under one-half (49%)."

This revelation comes from a recent survey conduced by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. We were under the (mistaken) impression that search engines were such an integral pat of online life that nearly anyone who is on the Internet uses a search engine to, well, search for stuff. In fact, isn't everyone's homepage Google? Okay, maybe not. But that's what happens when geeks (present company included) make assumptions. We use search all the time, so everybody else must also... Right? Wrong.

While just less than half of all Internet users use search in a given day, it is the second-most common online activity behind e-mail--of which 60 percent of Internet users use on a typical day. Another interesting tidbit that came out of this survey is that on any given day, approximately 30 percent of Internet users do not go online. Which also means then that 10 percent of Internet users who are online do not check e-mail. We think we might know some of those people.

Credit: Pew Internet & American Life Project

Based on the demographic profiles of respondents to the survey, the type of individual is who most likely to use search is a male, college graduate, between the ages of 18 and 29, who makes at least $75,000. Another curious fact from the survey is that 94 percent of broadband users and 80 percent of dial-up users "have ever tried search engines at all." For typical, everyday usage, 58 percent of broadband users and only 26 percent of dial-up users use search. The survey also found that 27 percent of respondents don't use the Internet at all.

We find these numbers to be low. We would have expected to see a higher percentage of active Internet users engaging in activities such as search and e-mail. But as we noted, our view is likely warped based on how much we have chosen to let technology seep into our lives. Our view of the online world is admittedly biased. (For instance, many of our grandparents are online. But then again, many of then are online because we cajoled them online in the first place.)

The researchers at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, on the other hand, seem almost a little surprised at the numbers. The number of folks using search on a typical day rose by 69 percent from when the survey was first conducted in January 2002 (when only 29 percent of users claimed to use search on a typical day).

The researchers have three theories as to why they are seeing such a big jump in search use. The first is that search is now often also a function available on individual sites for searching the content of those sites (much as how you can search HotHardware using the search box at the upper-right corner of the page). Secondly, the researchers noticed that of all the variables they analyzed, "the presence of a home broadband connection had the strongest relationship with a user's propensity to use a search engine on a typical day"--thus making it easy for a user to turn to the Internet to find answers to a question. The last reason is that "it may be that general search engine sites have become so useful and well tuned that people turn to them for an increasingly broad range of questions."

All three theories seem plausible to us. Perhaps we should look this up on Google?