Search Engine Use Grows; Most Happy With Results

pew-frequency-search-use-march2012.jpgMore than half of adult search engine users turn to search to find information at least once a day, representing a 54% increase from 35% in 2004, according to [pdf] survey results released in March 2012 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Daily use is highest among the 18-29 and 30-49 age groups (60%), college graduates (70%), and those with annual household income of more than $75k (68%). Overall, the proportion of online adults who use a search engine has risen to 91%, putting search on par with email use (92%) as the most popular online activities.

Search popularity mirrors its frequency of use: it is most used by 18-29-year-olds (96%) and college graduates (95%), with those groups also the most likely to say they used a search engine yesterday (66% and 74%, respectively).

2 in 3 Say Results Fair, Accurate

Search engine users appear to be generally happy with their experiences: roughly two-thirds of adult search users believe that these tools present a fair and unbiased source of information, while about three-quarters say that most (45%) or almost all (28%) all of the information they find is accurate and trustworthy.

Faith in results appears to trend along age lines: 72% of those aged 18-29 say that search engines are a fair and unbiased source, compared to 65% of the 30-49 set, 67% of 50-64-year-olds, and 54% of users aged 65 and older. Women are about 10% more likely than men (76% vs. 69%) to feel that all or most of the results they get are accurate and trustworthy. Interestingly, according to survey results released in February 2012 by Nielsen and NM Incite, women are also roughly 15% more likely than men to trust ads that are served in search engine results (39% vs. 34%).

More Users Report Positive Than Negative Experiences

pew-search-engine-experiences-march2012.jpgGiven their attitudes towards search results, it is not surprising that a high proportion of search users report positive experiences using these tools. The vast majority (86%) of the Pew survey respondents say they have learned something new or important using a search engine that really helped them or increased their knowledge, a figure which rises to 92% among college-educated users. Half of users said they have found a really obscure fact or piece of information they did not think they would be able to find, also higher among those who have been to college (56%).

Even so, roughly 2 in 5 users say they have obtained conflicting or contradictory information in results and could not figure out what was correct, while a similar proportion have felt overwhelmed by the amount of information in the results. One-third say they have discovered that critical information was missing from search results. Notably, college-educated users reported a higher likelihood of these negative experiences, too. This group’s higher likelihood of reporting both positive and negative experiences may well be related to higher usage in general by those with a college education.

Google Easily the Preferred Engine

Meanwhile, Google’s dominance in the search engine sphere continues unabated. 83% of search engine users report using Google most often, compared to just 6% for Yahoo. In 2004, 47% said they used Google most often, compared to 26% for Yahoo. According to March 2012 data from comScore, Google Sites led the US explicit core search market in February with 66.4% market share, ahead of Microsoft (15.3%) and Yahoo (13.8%). Compete data mirrors this, showing Google with 65.9% market share in February, with AOL contributing another 0.9% share.

Other Findings:

  • According to the Pew survey, 52% of search engine users say that results are getting more relevant over time, compared to 7% who say they are getting less relevant.
  • 55% of search users say that the quality of information they are getting via search engines is getting better, compared to just 4% who say it is getting worse.
  • 56% of search users say they are very confident in their searching abilities, compared to 48% in 2004. Those under 50 are more likely to report that level of confidence than those over 50 (64% vs. 40%).
  • 29% of users say they always find the information they are looking for, representing a 71% increase from 17% in 2004. A further 62% say they find the information they are looking for most of the time.

About the Data: The Pew results are based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from January 20 to February 19, 2012, among a sample of 2,253 adults, age 18 and older. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (1,352) and cell phone (901, including 440 without a landline phone).