Report: Search Soaring Among Web Users

The time American Internet users spend online increasingly involves searches for information, with the practice now trailing only e-mail as users’ primary purpose of using the Web, according to the latest survey from the Pew Internet Project.

The group said its survey indicated search engine users in the U.S. jumped from about 38 million in June 2004 to about 59 million in September 2005, an increase of 55 percent. Pew Project Director Lee Rainie told TechNewsWorld the increase can be attributed to improved search skill among users, more bandwidth and always-on connectivity with broadband, and better results from the popular search engines, which were ranked by popularity as Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask Jeeves, and AOL.

“The search engines themselves have gotten better and more sophisticated at rendering results people find useful,” Rainie said. “People have found the top results have been on point and directly answering their queries.”

Learning to Search

Rainie again credited more experienced search engine users for the increased activity online, as well.

“As you use search engines, you become better at it, and the search engines become more useful,” he said.

Rainie added that with broadband connections, U.S. Internet users are finding the use of an Internet search engine is much more effective and convenient than alternatives, such as phone books or yellow pages.

Rainie added that Internet search has benefited from the “cultural buzz” around Google, whose IPO stock offering was among the biggest news during the survey period.

Results Reservations

Although he indicated no surprise over the increased search activity online, Basex CEO and chief analyst Jonathan Spira questioned whether search engines or those who use them are improving.

“I would say the reason search engine use is up is two-fold,” he told TechNewsWorld. “There is more to search for and things are harder to find.”

Spira argued that while advanced users may be getting results on the mark, that is not the case for the majority of users.

“The figure of people that take the first couple results as being more valid, when they may not be, is a very scary figure,” he said.

Going Local

Spira also said although the larger search engines often deliver localized results better than local Internet sites or other resources, the increasing amount of information continues to be an issue.

“There are millions and millions of new pages every time you turn around, and there’s less order in these pages,” Spira said.

Pew’s Rainie, however, said the increase of localized Internet searches — which coincide with job searches, shopping, travel planning, and more — illustrates how the search engines themselves are getting better.

“Search engines are spreading out into more realms,” he said, referring to book and other media searches. “They are getting better at more specialized search, and local is the prime example of that.”

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