Search engine use is on the rise, according to a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
The percentage of Internet users who use search engines on a typical day has been steadily rising from about one-third of all users in 2002, to a new high of just under one-half (49 percent).
"With this increase, the number of those using a search engine on a typical day is pulling ever closer to the 60 percent of Internet users who use e-mail, arguably the Internet's all-time killer app, on a typical day," wrote Deborah Fallows, a Pew senior research fellow.
Chronicling the Rise of Search
Underscoring the dramatic increase over time, the percentage of Internet users who search on a typical day grew 69 percent from January 2002, when the Pew Internet & American Life Project first tracked this activity, to May 2008, when the current data were collected. During the same six-year time period, the use of e-mail on a typical day rose from 52 percent to 60 percent, for a growth rate of just 15 percent.
These new figures propel search further out of the pack, well ahead of other popular Internet activities, such as checking the news, which 39 percent of Internet users do on a typical day, or checking the weather, which 30 percent do on a typical day, Pew reported.
"Those who are using search engines on an average day are more likely to be socially upscale, with at least some college education and incomes over $50,000 per year," Fallows said. "They are more likely to be Internet users with at least six years of online experience and to have their homes wired for fast Internet connections."
Younger Internet users are more likely than older users to search on a typical day, and men are more likely than women to search on an average day, Pew reported. And those who use broadband connections at home are significantly more likely than those who use dial-up to have ever tried using search engines at all, by 94 percent to 80 percent.
The Why Behind the What
One likely reason why search usage is growing is that users can now expect to find a high-performing, site-specific search engine on just about every content-rich Web site that is worth its salt, Pew said.
"With a growing mass of Web content from blogs, news sites, image and video archives, personal Web sites and more, Internet users have an option to turn not only to the major search engines, but also to search engines on individual sites, as vehicles to reach the information they are looking for," Fallows said.
Another reason may be related to the fact that fully 55 percent of American homes have a high-speed Internet connection. Of all the demographic variables Pew 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.
Finally, Pew concluded, 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. Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, draws a different conclusion.
"There's just so much more information now on the Internet that search has become the central tool people use to access it," he said. "You can have some favorites or you can try to use social bookmarking tools, but there's no other way to get at these volumes of information that exist other than using a search engine."