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How Americans Search

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A recent study from Harris Interactive shines interesting light on the behavior and preferences of Americans when searching the web.

The study, commissioned by search marketing firm icrossing, was put together based on interviews with more than 2,100 adults. The findings show that search continues to be a popular online activity, with more than 50% reporting that they searched every time they went online.

What are people searching for? Most people (88%)said they were researching specific topics—specifically, information about hobbies. And women (61%) were more likely to search for health and medical information than men (35%). Surprisingly few people researching specific topics are looking for job or career information (28%).

Other common things people use search for include:

  • Getting directions/maps - 75%
  • Looking for news - 64%
  • Shopping - 51%
  • Looking for entertainment web sites - 47%

The study also affirmed data from the major measurement services, showing Google as the most popular search engine, followed by Yahoo, MSN, AOL and Ask Jeeves. However, the types of information people looked for with each engine varied.

For Ask Jeeves and MSN users, searching for health information is the most popular reason for researching a specific topic. Google users, by contrast, like to look for news and current event information. Google users also tend to use search for business or professional research more than other search engine users.

And we're not as set in our ways as some commentators believe. More than 45% of adults searching for news are looking for differing viewpoints, and 42% are searching for supplemental information.

The study also affirmed anecdotal evidence that people are turning to the internet instead of phone books or yellow pages. 54% indicated they have searched online rather than using a phone book. Most (63%) are looking for the addresses of phone numbers of people, but almost as many (58%) are looking up information on local businesses.

When it comes to shopping, most people (80%) are comparing prices, rather than looking for a local retailer. Similarly, when people are searching for entertainment purposes, the majority (61%) are looking for show times or reviews, rather than download sources.

And the study found that search engine users aren't as loyal as many believe. Just 13% reported that they used Google all of the time. There was even less loyalty among users of the other search engines.

The study suggests Americans are getting savvier about the distinction between paid and organic listings, but still more than half (56%) do not understand the difference between the types of listings. Among those that do know the difference, only about half (51%) prefer organic listings. And in general, men express a stronger preference for organic results than women, who tend not to have a preference.

Results from this study are similar to those found by other studies done by the Pew Internet & American Life project (see What We Search For and Survey: Searchers are Confident, Satisfied and Clueless). None of the findings are particularly earthshaking, but are a good read for anyone doing search marketing.

For more information, see the press release covering the study, which also includes instructions on getting a full copy of the report.

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