Search engine use shoots up in the past year and edges towards email as the primary internet application; On an average day, nearly 60 million people use search engines

Search engines have become an increasingly important part of the online experience of American internet users. The most recent findings from Pew Internet & American Life tracking surveys and consumer behavior trends from the comScore Media Metrix consumer panel show that about 60 million American adults are using search engines on a typical day.

These results from September 2005 represent a sharp increase from mid-2004. Pew Internet Project data from June 2004 show that use of search engines on a typical day has risen from 30% to 41% of the internet-using population, which itself has grown in the past year. This means that the number of those using search engines on an average day jumped from roughly 38 million in June 2004 to about 59 million in September 2005 – an increase of about 55%. comScore data, which are derived from a different methodology, show that from September 2004 to September 2005 the average daily use of search engines jumped from 49.3 million users to 60.7 million users – an increase of 23%.

This means that the use of search engines is edging up on email as a primary internet activity on any given day. The Pew Internet Project data show that on a typical day, email use is still the top internet activity. On any given day, about 52% of American internet users are sending and receiving email, up from 45% in June of 2004.

comScore data show that, compared to the amount of time people use search engines, the time users’ spend sending and receiving email on web-based clients such as Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail is still considerably higher. On an average day, internet users on the comScore panel spent more than 24 minutes on email, compared to 3.5 minutes for search engines. This is not surprising, given the average time of a search compared with the average time of reading and writing email. At the same time, it does show that email continues to be a powerful application that commands a notable amount of users’ time online on any given day.

Overall, among internet users, there is hardly a difference between the size of the email-using population and the size of the search-engine using population. Pew Internet Project data show that 91% of all internet users had ever sent or receive email 90% of internet users had used search engines.

Searching on an average day

The latest data from comScore show that Google was the most heavily used search engine in October 2005 with 89.8 million unique visitors, followed by Yahoo! Search (68 million unique visitors), MSN Search (49.7 million unique visitors), Ask Jeeves (43.7 million unique visitors), and AOL Search (36.1 million unique visitors).

Top Ten Search Sites By Unique Visitors

One of the trends comScore data have captured in recent months is the rise of local searches – that is, searches related to geographically distinct places. These searches involve “local qualifiers” – or search terms including specific items such as ZIP codes, telephone numbers and street addresses.  Consumers are using local search tools to coincide with other online activity, such as job searches, retail shopping and travel planning. 

Local search data

Another way to look at location-specific search is to examine searches at Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) sites. IYP sites enable searchers to add additional qualifiers to their searches, such as location information or type of business, thereby enabling the IYP sites to return very specific results. 

Top Sites - Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) Search Data

To put email use and search-engine use in perspective, the table below compares these activities to other internet activities. The use of email is the top internet activity tracked in Pew Internet Project work. Search engine use is the second. And newsgathering is the third. The remaining activities are a scattering of other activities that are regularly queried in Project surveys and are included as examples of where search engine use stacks up in comparison with other well-known internet activities.

On an average day, about 94 million American adults use the internet. Here is the proportion of that daily population who are doing some well-known internet activities

The Pew Internet Project findings cited in this report come from a nationally representative telephone survey of 2,251 American adults (age 18 and older), including 1,577 internet users, between September 13-October 14, 2005. The margin of error on the internet user portion of the survey is plus or minus 3%.

The comScore data cited in this report come from comScore Media Metrix, an internet audience measurement service that uses a massive cross-section of more than 1.5 million U.S. consumers who have given comScore explicit permission to confidentially capture their browsing and transaction behavior, including online and offline purchasing.

Further analysis

Those who use search engines on an average day tend to be heavy internet users. They are much more likely to have broadband connections than dial-up connections; to log on to the internet several times a day; and to have spent considerable time online during the day.

Those using search engines on a typical day are also more likely to be in their 30s – members of the GenX cohort – than any other generational cohort.

They are also more likely to be socially upscale – with college degrees and living in households earning more than $75,000. Finally, they are also more likely to be white or English-speaking Hispanics than to be African-American.

Here are some of the details:

  • Broadband

On an average day, 41% of online Americans use search engines. These are the percentages of internet users with various kinds of connections who use search engines on an average day:

  • Generational cohort

On a typical day these are the percentages of internet users in each generation who use search engines:

  • Race and ethnicity

On a typical day these are the percentages of internet users in each group who use search engines:

  • Income level

On a typical day these are the percentages of internet users in each group who use search engines:

  • Educational attainment

On a typical day these are the percentages of internet users in each group who use search engines: