Search Individualized by Demographics

  |  August 5, 2004   |  Comments

Internet users have different reasons for using search engines, but they don't always get satisfactory results.

A Harris Interactive poll conducted for Microsoft that examined search engine usage revealed that while most of the 2,231 U.S. respondents used search engines, the reasons for doing so differed among the demographics.

Despite the high usage, a significant minority are not satisfied with the search results. This finding could be a sign that marketers should better hone their optimization methods and search engines should better tune their algorithms.

Of the 98 percent of Internet users who have used a search engine, 48 percent do so at least once per day. On average, Internet users conduct two searches per day, and the largest share – 30 percent – search more than once per day.

"Search engines are becoming an indispensable part of the lives of Internet users," said Kevin Lee, co-founder and CEO of Did-it.com. "The survey validates that searchers have come to rely on the Internet and search engines as a source for valuable, timely information."

The most popular topics overall were travel, with 61 percent of users saying they searched on the subject, followed by health (60 percent), entertainment (58 percent), current events or news (56 percent) and weather (56 percent). Digging more deeply, the poll found popularity divisions by gender, age, and geographic region.

The top five search categories for women were just a reprioritization of the categories for the overall population, with health being the most frequently searched subject. Men typically looked for entertainment information, with automobile and technology searches also very prominent.

There were no big surprises when search was categorized by age. Young adults (18 to 27-years old) were most likely to search for entertainment and career information; generation X (28 to 39-years old) conducted travel and health searches most frequently; and both baby boomers (40 to 58-years old) and mature adults (59+) sought health information.

Geographic differences were evident as well. Travel was the category most Internet users searched in Seattle, New York, and Chicago, while more users in Los Angeles searched for entertainment information than any other topic. Users in Atlanta, home to CNN's world headquarters, were most apt to look for current events and news information, and Denver users conducted most of their searches on health topics.

Internet users are generally satisfied with search results, but there is room for improvement. Greater than one-quarter (29 percent) of survey respondents said they only sometimes or rarely find what they want, and 30 percent indicated that they are somewhat or not very satisfied by searches.

These high levels of dissatisfaction create optimization opportunities for marketers, while also issuing challenges to the engines themselves. "Marketers and publishers with information must react by making sure that they are tapping the power of search engine marketing through both natural search listings and paid search results," said Lee.

MSN said that its efforts to improve relevancy include direct answers to user questions in plain English, and the engine recently integrated personalized news search functions.

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