SAN FRANCISCO—February 14, 2001—A comprehensive two-year study by Alexa Research, a leading web intelligence and traffic measurement service, has revealed that based on their searching habits, an alarming number of Web users are not particularly efficient at reaching their online destinations. Rather than entering a uniform resource locator (“URL”) into the address field of their Web browsers, millions of Internet users enter the name of the site they want into the search box of their homepage or other search engine. The study also found that the most popular term people search for online is “sex.” These findings are based on an examination of more than 42 million search pages viewed in aggregate by users of the Alexa toolbar at ten of the Internet's leading portals and search engines—altavista.com, aol.com, excite.com, go.com, google.com, goto.com, lycos.com, msn.com, netscape.com, and yahoo.com —between March 1999 and January 2001.
“Based on the results of this study, we believe that the Web is still a technical hurdle many people have not yet cleared,” said Matthew Work, Vice President of Alexa Research. “The prevalence of sex-related search terms probably isn't a shock to most people, but we were surprised by the number of people that accessed websites by entering site names as search terms rather than just typing them in the address field of their browser.”
Four of the top ten search terms sought by users in the study were website names or addresses. Hotmail—whether entered as “hotmail,” “hotmail.com” or “www.hotmail.com”—was the second most popular term sought. Yahoo (including “yahoo.com” and “www.yahoo.com”) was third. EBay (including “ebay.com” and “www.ebay.com”) and AOL (including “aol.com” and “www.aol.com”) were 9th and 10th, respectively. Also among the top 50 were Excite.com, AltaVista, Amazon.com and MSN.
“This study shows that for many, there's a conceptual misunderstanding of how to effectively navigate the Web,” said Work. “Some people think that their homepage is the Web, that they have to go through their homepage in order to get to the site they want, without realizing that any website can be accessed directly. This notion is supported by our Web traffic popularity rankings, where eight of the top 10 sites are portals and/or search engines.”
Sex-related terms were quite popular. “Sex” was the most popular term for which people searched. Of all the terms searched for online, 0.3289%—or roughly 1 of every 300 terms—were “sex.” According to their online searching habits, people want “sex” more than they want “games,” “music,” “travel,” “jokes,” “cars,” “jobs,” “weather” and “health” combined. “Porn” (along with “porno” and “pornography”) was the 4th most popular search term. “Nude” (and “nudes”), “xxx,” “Playboy” and “erotic stories” (and “erotica”) were also among the top 20.
“Chat” (and “chatrooms”), “mp3,” “horoscope” (and “horoscopes”) and “games” round out the Top 10. “Map” (and “maps”), “pokemon,” “music,” “travel,” “screensaver” (and “screensavers”) and “free” round out the Top 20.
The most popular celebrities searched for were Britney Spears, Pamela Anderson, Backstreet Boys, Jennifer Lopez and Eminem. Pokemon was the most popular specific toy or game searched. Playboy was the most popular media property.
One of the more notable findings from the study is how diffuse the list of search terms is, compared to how concentrated the Web is overall. “The top 50 search terms account for only 2.73% of all search term pageviews, which reflects how diverse people's interests are,” said Lead Data Miner Jason Maxham. “By contrast, the 50 most popular websites receive 25% of all traffic—that's more than eight times as concentrated as the search terms. This concentration reveals that in the bigger picture, people still converge on the same batch of sites.”
The 20 Most Popular Search Terms at 10 Leading Portals and Search Engines Between March 1999 and January 2001:
- sex (0.3289%)
- hotmail/hotmail.com/www.hotmail.com (0.2131%)
- yahoo/yahoo.com/www.yahoo.com (0.2044%)
- porn/porno/pornography (0.1402%)
- chat/chatrooms (0.1233%)
- mp3 (0.0935%)
- horoscopes/horoscope (0.0800%)
- ebay/ebay.com/www.ebay.com (0.0731%)
- aol/aol.com/www.aol.com (0.0714%)
- games (0.0659%)
- map/maps (0.0585%)
- pokemon (0.0549%)
- nude/nudes (0.0541%)
- music (0.0505%)
- xxx (0.0473%)
- travel (0.0470%)
- screensaver/screensavers (0.0458%)
- lyrics/song lyrics (0.0455%)
- playboy (0.0430%)
- free (0.0426%)
More than 9.1 million unique terms were searched for during the period of the study.