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1/4 of all users cannot do a Google search

 8:00 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

Jakob Nielsen comes up with a startling revelation in his latest Alertbox article:

If you thought it's easy to get to Google, think again. In our current round of usability research, only 76% of users who expressed a desire to run a Google search were successful. In other words, 1/4 of users who wanted to use Google couldn't do so. (Instead, they either completely failed to get to any search engine or ended up running their query on a different search engine usually whatever type-in field happened to be at hand.)


I know that the average user is not all that savvy, but this study just doesn't ring true to me - all due respect to Jakob. How do others see that number - a 24% failure rate?



 8:20 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I believe it. Remember, most of the population did not grow up around computers, the internet, and/or are particularly "bright"

No different than if I heard 99% of people don't know how to reset their VCR clocks from blinking 12:00 -
(oops, now I'm dating myself...what's a VCR?) =P


 8:36 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I see this phenomena with my co-workers who are all in the IT field. They're certainly not dumb, but with very few exceptions they aren't Internet savvy either. I see them using Yahoo more than any other engine, or simply following links around to go to where they hope will have what they're looking for. It is bizarre IMHO.

In my own stats I see folks who have actually typed in a lengthy and complete question when searching at Ask instead of the usual shortened query that most use elsewhere. I also see a lot of runtogetherwords as searches too.

Receptional Andy

 8:47 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

users who expressed a desire to run a Google search

I don't doubt the statistics, although from a language point of view Google is now synonymous with search for certain people. So, I would be keen to make sure that none of that 24% were actually misusing a word rather than a web browser.


 8:48 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I believe it too..

just telling someone the other day how I could find phone numbers quicker through Google than using the yellow pages..

she said.."how do I get Google on my computer"

I asked how she searched, .. "Oh that box at the top the screen (meaning the address bar I suppose)"

and friends too use what BHO has installed itself or the toolbars their kids have downloaded, or their ISP portal page.

IMHO it is only the IT savvy, or folks into search or google itself - that know search engines are pages unto themselves


 8:55 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

my wife told me just the other day that she has a hard time searching with Google. I don't blame Google for that but it sure does make it easier to accept the numbers that Neilsen is touting.


 9:05 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I am amazed at how many users do not know about their address bar and simply type their desired URL into the the Google search box.

Having said that, I wonder how many bright souls are trying to get to Google by typing www.google.com into Google's search box!


 9:26 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I believe this in a heartbeat. I know most of the folks for who I am the default "tech support" guy couldn't get to Google without it being set as their home page. And of course, there's my buddy who, to get to Y! mail, searches G for [yahoo] and clicks on the second result. It used to be the third result; when it changed I had a pretty difficult time explaining to him that results weren't inviolate.

Tech support for family and friends can be wearisome at time, but the over-the-shoulder research opportunities are priceless.


 9:54 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

"I have to connect to the Internet to use Google?"


 10:02 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I think this quote from the article is reflected in the anecdotal stories we've heard so far

Also, for this round of research we're deliberately recruiting above-average users, so the success rate across all Internet users is probably lower than our finding.


 10:44 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I think that this all started with the low cost computers hitting the market in the last few years.
Way back when, you had to drop at least $1,500 for an entry level machine and that stopped 50% of the "public" from owning one. Now an entry level box can be had for $300 or less.


 11:07 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

Kids, right? If most adults are already online, the new people entering the fray are kids just old enough to use the internet. Who are maybe eight years old. Who could easily have difficulties figuring out Google.

Every day I still get searches like:

fast example.com

They tack on .com to the end of the search.

Parents need to spend a few moments teaching their kids. It only takes a few moments to explain Google and you're set for life.



 11:25 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I think you have it reversed p/g.
Most "savvy" internet users are under the age of 32-35...
right about the time a college student would have been playing around with this "new" thing called world wide web.

(and their parents/college would have shelled out $2-3k for an educational tool)

You're finding people over the age of 35-40, which is a majority of the population,
struggling to find their email accounts,
typing in "Where can i find cheap widgets?"
and in general having all kinds of difficulties with "all things internet".

It's a generational thing.
Like those cell phone commercials where the parents have no clue what "lol" and "bff" mean.


 11:43 pm on Mar 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

Initially I was surprised that the failure rate was so high.

But on reflection, when I consider the questions I get from clients, friends, and family, and the general all-around internet cluelessness of so many of the people I know who don't work in this business for a living, it seems about right. If anything, as the article noted, the failure rate is probably higher across the entire online population.


 12:04 am on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

Probably true.

Just the other day I was privileged to introduce a person (probably early 40's) to the idea that a page actually scrolls. Yes, Virginia, there may be more than what you immediately see on the screen.

Most of her career had been spent on old green screen workstations. Since the organization has been running Windoze for the past few years, I have to wonder how many "truncated" emails she has read in Outlook - or perhaps she just prints them out?

In the immediate family I see two who uses Yahoo almost exclusively - for mail, search, games, etc., one that uses the address bar (which means live.com in this case). First two are under 25, and the third is mid 40's female. Intersting lessons in demographics.


 1:06 am on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

I'm not surprised. If people were more savvy, you wouldn't have sites using search terms as their urls. Apparently lots of folks type their search terms into the address bar and slap on a dot-com. They wind up on pages that are basically nothing but advertiser links. Generating these sites has become a huge business.

Tropical Island

 1:32 pm on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

I believe it.

I have tried numerous times to explain to my wife the difference between the url box & the Google toolbar which I installed on her machine.

She still doesn't get it & she a generally smart person.


 1:36 pm on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

...only 76% of users who expressed a desire to run a Google search were successful...

The stat is a little misleading, because if you asked those same people to point out the "enter" key on their keyboard, they'd scratch their heads, and many of them would also say that they thought aol WAS the internet. So it's not really Google in particular that's the problem.

These kind of studies remind me of the quote from Benjamin Disraeli: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."



 1:43 pm on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

It does not surprise me at all based on keyword stats for my websites. For some strange reasons many users append www or .com to a keyword. I also know that there are a lot of users who use the web for email or chatting but when it comes to doing a meaningful search they are clueless. I also continue to be shocked that many of my friends in IT (programmers and the like who are more focused on hardware or other non-web related work) are so clueless about the Internet. I have a hard time explaining to them that I can make a comfortable, upper middle class living in the US by using something called AdSense. Only when you show them a page with ads they realize that it is advertising and someone makes money when they click on them.


 3:53 pm on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

Every time I visit webmaster world from work I type webmasterworld.com into my google toolbar. I do that when visiting lot of sites. I guess it's because it's less distance to move my mouse to the G toolbar than to the browser address bar.


 4:30 pm on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

Doesn't surprise me in the least. My father, who was ahead of the curve when it came to computers for many years... many years ago, still types the word 'Google' into the Yahoo search box (on his browser homepage) when he wants to do a search for something. He'll then click the Google link at the top of the Yahoo search results and proceed to do his search.

My mother, who loves to use the internet, only uses the address bar when I point to it and tell her to type something in there. Otherwise she'll just surf from page to page.


 4:39 pm on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

24% failure rate? Wow! I'd like to see some statistics over a time period to see if that rate is increasing or decreasing. Remember, we have a whole generation of Baby Boomers who are coming online and I've seen what everyone else is describing above.

Just the other day I found out that a client was typing web addresses into a Yahoo! search box and then clicking from the SERPs. That was their way of going to websites. Unbelievable. When I asked him to type in his web address for the new development area, he couldn't get to it. That's what led me down the trek of having him describe what he did to get to his website. We couldn't do a GoToMeeting, no way, this is a person typing web addresses into a Yahoo! search box.

Now, even if a percentage of those 24% could do a Google search, what percentage of those would find what they were looking for?


 7:10 pm on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

It may well appear to be a simple task to get to Google and perform a basic search but that's not the point it seems to me. When I look at the toolbars at the top of my browser window, they appear complicated and almost intimidating. An infrequent user finds the whole idea of the internet complictaed. That frightens them and even simple tasks become shrouded in mystery.

This is why kids do better. They are not so dumb as to try and understand the whole computer thing in one go, they just press a button and see what happens. If they like it, they use it, if they don't they ignore it. At around 20 years old people change, they try and understand what might happen if they press a button, if they are not sure, they ignore it.

Just think of the term URL. The novice, non-kid user just can't get their head round it. Why URL? Why not just webpage? Why does it stand for Universal Resource Locator! It's all too frightening, I'm going to ignore it.


 11:56 pm on Mar 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

Every day I still get searches like:

fast example.com

They tack on .com to the end of the search.

I dont think this has changed, on wordtracker the most searched term used to be: google, ebay, yahoo, hotmail both with .com and without

Recently, I started myself using the search box instead the address bar or the bookmarks, if I misspell, google tells me quicker than any other method.

I open IE and the cursor already is in the search box, here we go.


 12:53 am on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

I see it all the time -- people who don't know the address bar from a search box. Like most others here, I believe it's the age 35+ crowd who are new to computers.

My 12 year old can "google anything", (and can also take a digital picture with her cell phone, send it to her hotmail account then pop it into her myspace page in less time than most people can dial a phone number -- and it happens wthout missing a beat of the CD she's listening to on the computer, watching cable t.v., eating a snack and all while "doing her homework")...

On the other hand, my 70 year old mother needs to repeatedly be reminded that the address bar is not a search box.


 12:58 am on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

Only 24% fail. I am surpised it is that low.

I think I have recounted the tale of a searcher in a library trying to use the Internet to find a telephone number enough times now...


 1:00 am on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

This 24% group probably makes up 95% of Adsense clickers as well.

martian to mars

 1:01 am on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

Here is some real life stats:

Domain registered about 5 years ago.

Expired after 3 years.

Reregistered after about 1 year.

The domain was as blackhat as it get for about a week of maybe too, had about 50.000 searches a day for those weeks.

It was promoted with auto set homepage, and auto install toolbar.

It have been down for about 1 year, and it have been with out a way to search for about 2 year.

Today it have had 1417 searches with the toolbar and about 1/10 from the home page for this month (19/Mar).


 1:26 am on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

I see people adding "www" to their email addresses. People tell me that Google is the browser they use. I've seen my father confuse the search bar on Firefox with the address bar. I know a guy who only just realized a couple of years ago (after several years of using the web) that you could click on the the underlined bits on a web page to go to another page. I got a "tech support" query once from a woman asking where to find the underscore on her keyboard. There's no end to the confusion.


 1:36 am on Mar 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

This 24% group probably makes up 95% of Adsense clickers as well.

Was thinking the same too.

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