Business More Popular Than Sex On Search Engines

People are spending less time on the Web looking for pornography and more time searching for business information, according to a recent study.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

April 2, 2002

2 Min Read

A new study shows that Web users are spending less time looking for pornography and more time searching for business information and E-commerce sites, a trend that researchers say shows the real viability of the Web as a marketing tool for business. Amanda Spinks, a Penn State information sciences professor, and her colleagues studied more than 1 million queries from the Excite Web search engine, comparing sets from 1997, 1999, and 2001. By classifying search terms into categories, the researchers were able to identify trends in the way Web surfers were looking for information.

In 1997, entertainment or recreation queries dominated the engine, accounting for 19.9% of all searches. By 2001, those queries had fallen to seventh place, at 6.6%. The second most common type of search in 1997 was sex and pornography, at 16.8% of all searches; in 2001, that category had sunk to fifth place at only 8.5% of all queries--many of which, Spinks says, were related to human sexuality rather than pornography.

Meanwhile, more business-oriented terms climbed the ranks. Commerce, travel, employment, or economy queries only amounted to 13.3% of the pool in 1997, making it the third most common type of search, but surged to first place by 2001, representing 24.7% of all queries. "We're really seeing a big shift towards more E-commerce," Spinks says. "From '97 onwards, we saw the rise of the dot-coms ... a huge amount of business and E-commerce information went on the Web." Spinks says the trend doesn't just indicate the availability of more information, but shows that the Web is evolving from an entertainment to a business medium.

Spinks says the study should show execs that there are a lot of people looking for business information on the Web, and thus a lot of opportunities to reach customers. "There's also a growing number of people who are non-English speaking," she says. "Ten percent of all queries aren't in English, and executives should be aware of that as well." She also says the data indicates people use ineffective search strategies and advises companies to spend time training employees to use search engines properly, so they don't waste time or resources. "If they're going to expect people to collect information from the Internet," she says, "they need to invest in training people how to use these tools."

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