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How Important Is Search to Users?

Lisa E. Phillips, Senior Analyst

January 27, 2009 | Advertising & Marketing

The percentage of Internet users who are searching online varies by study, but its popularity is undeniable. According to the TNS “Digital World, Digital Life” report, 81% of Internet users worldwide used search engines in 2008—which raises the question, what are the other 19% doing?

Online Activities of Internet Users Worldwide, 2008 (% of respondents)

In the US, 89% of all Internet users searched in April–May 2008. However, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found usage actually varied by access technology and location. Fewer dial-up users conducted searches than did people with a broadband connection at home, at 80% versus 94%. Internet users at home and at work used search in the same proportions—95% of each group.

Online Activities of US Internet Users, by Access Technology, April-May 2008 (% of respondents)

Interestingly, the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future found that 21% of respondents used a search engine as their homepage in 2007—more than double the response in 2005. Internet portals such as Yahoo!, AOL and MSN declined in popularity as homepages between the two years.

Another indication that search is a necessary function for many Internet users is their willingness to pay for the privilege of using a Website. In October 2008, Rubicon Consulting polled 3,036 Internet users over the age of 12 about which sites they would pay to use if the fee were a nominal $2 per month. More than one-half (52%) said they would pay to use Google, with Yahoo! a distant second at 22% of respondents. Access to social media sites—YouTube, Wikipedia and Facebook—was considered more imperative than to retail, auction and classified sites such as Amazon, eBay and craigslist.

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