Search Engine Survey Provides Wealth Of User Data

Search Engine Survey
Provides Wealth of User Data

From The Search Engine Update
Sept. 3, 1997

NPD has released the results of a survey that provides a range of interesting statistics about search engine users. The survey was conducted during the summer on AltaVista, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, WebCrawler and Yahoo. A random number of visitors to each site received an invitation to fill out a survey. There were 22,874 respondents. Some key findings:

Searching by keyword is far more popular than browsing listings. Only 6 to 20 percent said they used predefined topics, which all the search engines but AltaVista provide.

Multiple keywords are used more than single keywords, users say. Search engines generally report that those searching use less than two words, on average. But 50 to 77 percent of those surveyed said they use multiple keywords.

Users stick with the same search engine, if they don't find what they are looking for the first time. Between 66% and 80% said they'll try again using different words or methods, while only 16% to 25% said they would shift to a new search engine.

Surprisingly, there was a significant difference between those in the NPD survey saying they used a particular search engine "most often" versus the last reported audience shares for the search engine category from Media Metrix (formally PC Meter). Media Metrix is part of the same company that conducted the survey.

The May 97 Media Metrix results put Yahoo 1st (37.2%), Excite 2nd (19.9%), Infoseek 3rd (16.5%), Lycos 4th (14.0%) and WebCrawler 5th (12.9%).

In contrast, the NPD survey found Yahoo staying 1st (29%), while AltaVista shot up to 2nd (17%), WebCrawler rose to 3rd (14%), Infoseek dropped to 4th (11%), Excite dropped to 5th (9%) and Lycos dropped to 6th (7%).

The survey also asked which features users found important. For 95% or more, sites need to be easy to use, provide search results quickly, provide relevant results and load pages quickly. Just below this, 93% or more said information needed to be well organized and have up-to-date information.

In-depth information was rated slightly lower. Between 86% to 90% wanted comprehensive information, while 83% to 88% wanted detailed information.

Clearly, the emphasis is on speed and results. In contrast, many features that have been given greater importance recently by some search engines were ranked much lower:

Site is interactive: 56%-69%
Site is fun to use: 43%-68%
Site looks good: 44%-60%
Site provides personal news/information page: 26%-38%
Site has contests and surveys: 24%-34%

The survey also provides a demographic breakdown of respondents, listing information about income, age and browsers used, among other categories. As this is from a random sample taken from the search engines, this breakdown provides a good look at what a search engine user may be like.

NPD Search Engine Survey
NPD, Aug. 26, 1997

Yahoo Press Release
Yahoo, Aug. 26, 1997