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Ignorance Abounds: 24 Percent of Internet Users Cannot Find Google

March 26th, 2008

cant-find-google2.jpgAlthough I have long realized that the conditions of ignorance and stupidity have always been prevalent in human societies, today I ran across a recent tidbit of research findings that surprised even me. According to Jacob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox article at UseIt.com released last week, some 24 percent of Internet users could not even perform a simple Google search:

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.

The article goes on to point out that these were actually supposed to be above average Internet users who took part in the study. Participants were equally distributed among low, middle, and high income earners, effectively overrepresenting the most financially successful computer users compared with the normal income distribution found in the general population. People who failed the Google search test either ended up on a different search engine from whatever type-in fields they could find or simply gave up the search altogether.

For Internet marketers, this is important information to take into account when putting together an advertising campaign. After all, most of us who are in the business of trying to make serious money online end up focusing most of our efforts on designing our web pages for search engine optimization. But if a significant group of people cannot even find the world’s most popular search engine, our wonderful SEO skills are not going to mean much to them.

In my opinion, the takeaway lesson here is for us to remember that offline advertising still has its advantages, even in cases where our entire income is generated from online sources. That means getting those business cards, flyers, bulletin board leaflets, and old school classified ads out there so that people will remember our website address and type it into the browser bar even if they do not go through a search engine. Of course, good old-fashioned word of mouth doesn’t hurt either. After enough people have heard about our website, even the technically challenged will wind up at right place eventually. Once they get there, we will have the opportunity to teach them about these newfangled contraptions called search engines.


12 Responses to “Ignorance Abounds: 24 Percent of Internet Users Cannot Find Google”

  1. comment number 1 by: amy

    that is really funny, and not just a little disturbing!

  2. comment number 2 by: Caren

    I’m not sure I get this right. They couldn’t find the google website? or they couldn’t find what they were searching for on google? If it’s the former and they’ve used the internet before, I’m sorry but they need a brain check.

  3. comment number 3 by: Joliber Mapiles

    I think offline advertising is good if your business caters specific small regions only. However, if you want a worldwide coverage, better use the online tools or else you’ll be wasting a lot of money..

  4. comment number 4 by: roel

    I think there’s truth to this. Not all people who surf the internet know about Google. I must say Yahoo! and Microsoft are more popular.

    By the way, I wonder what happened to your PR? I thought you already have a PR2 or PR4 a few weeks ago.

  5. comment number 5 by: Karlonia

    @Amy:

    Yes, I had a pretty good laugh on this one. As webmasters, it’s easy to forget just how much ignorance is really out there.

    @Caren:

    Yes, you read that right - they could not even find the Google website. There are many people who do not use the Internet to anywhere near its full potential. They only go to a few trusted sites (usually mainstream news sites or large retail shopping sites) and either go to these directly from the browser bar or will exclusively use another search engine or SE aggregator like Dogpile.

    Although it’s easy to laugh at such quaint surfing habits, these folks actually represent an enticing opportunity for those of us “in the know” about Internet marketing. These people may still be living in the dark ages now, but with a little bit of education, they could be reading our blogs and buying our products a few years from now.

    @Joliber:

    Yes, that’s certainly true - I wasn’t suggesting that we abandon the online methods. My point about offline advertising was mostly aimed at those of us who are just starting out as bloggers or “make money onliners”. There are some offline methods that don’t cost a lot of money (or are totally free) but could pull in some readers who would never see our online advertising because of their current surfing habits. Don’t forget that first impressions count too - if we can get these folks to our sites before they can even find Google, they’re likely to trust us as long as we don’t do anything to alienate them.

    @Roel:

    While reading through some of the other articles that reported on this story, I ran across some comments that mentioned the same thing that you did - there are many people who actually prefer Yahoo, MSN, Ask, or some of the other search engines over Google. They say that the Google results often don’t contain many of the terms that they’re searching for, so they see Google as less relevant or don’t trust it as much. While this isn’t necessarily true, Google’s aggressiveness in trying to filter out paid links and spammy sites may have gone too far in some areas. For me this is actually a good sign because I have generally had more success with ranking at Yahoo and MSN than I have with Google whenever I really try to target a certain keyword phrase in an article.

    As for the PR issue, yes, I lost my PR about three weeks ago (I had been at PR 3 since last October), and no, I’m certainly not happy about it. The worst part is that I do not know why the site is apparently being penalized, so I don’t know what I am supposed to do to get the PR back or if it is even possible at this point. I have already done everything that I can think of in terms of Google’s stated guidelines. I have even gone back into older posts and removed any links that had any hint of being questionable or paid links. I have also put nofollow on any affiliate or referral links - this MAY have been the reason for the penalty because I wasn’t doing this before, although my link density compared to the overall amount of content that I have does not seem high enough to trigger the “thin affiliate site” penalty.

    In case you’re wondering, the PR issue has NOT affected my search engine traffic or rankings at all - in fact, my traffic from Google and the other search engines has actually increased after the PR wipeout. All of this is making me suspect that the people in the “PR is mostly useless” camp have been right all along.

  6. comment number 6 by: Caren

    But…all they’d have to do is use the search engine they do know and search “google”.

  7. comment number 7 by: Karlonia

    @Caren:

    Yes, that’s true - which is part of what makes these findings rather surprising. Perhaps these people really do need a “brain check”!

  8. comment number 8 by: g

    lol…I do hope I am on the ‘know how’ side…I wonder now which age bracket those ‘who can’t google’ belong…

  9. comment number 9 by: Wade Balsdon

    I think this information is encouraging, it means the market globally is wide open to earn money. By educating people you can sell the many online tools like ISP, advertising etc.

  10. comment number 10 by: Karlonia

    @g:

    According to the UseIt.com site, the study’s target age range was 20-60 years. You can confirm this and find out more specifics by following the relevant source link near the top of this article. You will need to scroll about 3/4 of the way down the page to find the part about the Google usability research study that I referenced. From there, you can follow their links to find out more information about how the study was conducted.

    @Wade:

    I agree - there are still large numbers of people even in developed countries who are not very Internet savvy. This presents a good target market with ample earning opportunities for site owners who can offer relevant products and services, either directly through e-commerce or through affiliate programs.

  11. comment number 11 by: Faith

    I found out recently that a lot of people I know who use the internet have never used google. Apparently, it is more popular with “the internet savvy”. It’s crazy…and sadly ignorant.

  12. comment number 12 by: Yair Bar-On

    This is unbelievable. How come people can’t find Google? It actually gave me quite a few ideas of making money from this stupidity. The greatest ideas are the simplest.

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