More Google Trends: The answer is . . .

(Note: I'm on vacation. Appearing here in my absence will be some of my favorite posts from the past.)

(Originally published May 26, 2006)

So why, as asked here last week, does Google beat porn but not sex or Yahoo?

The apparent answer in a word: navigation.

There are other answers that would work, too - convenience, clueless bumbling, laziness - but the consensus reason for why the search engine names Google, MSN and especially Yahoo outrank most any other search terms on Google Trends is that a boatload of people use the search box instead of their browser's address bar to navigate from where they are to where they want to go. . . . Go figure.

We're using the weasel word "apparent" to describe this answer because it comes not from Google but a clear majority of opinions offered by dozens of readers worldwide - with Australia, Israel and Pakistan among the foreign locales represented. Google's explanation for the phenomenon was that there is no phenomenon, merely an overriding interest in all things Google. (It stands to reason that there are people within the company who better understand what's going on here, but getting useful information out of Google is like wringing blood from a search engine.)

Let's hear from some of those who responded to last week's question:

"Here is the utterly simple explanation as to why Yahoo appears to be so popular," writes Cody Frisch. "Set Google to your home page; notice the cursor does not default to the address bar but rather the entry in Google. Now type in Yahoo and click 'I'm feeling lucky,' and you go straight to the Yahoo home page. . . . Why do I know this? I watch my father, day in and day out, enter URLs into the Google search box and search them - and then click the link. Despite my urging him to use the address bar it makes no difference. So the prevalence of Yahoo in Google Trends is simply a matter of slight computer illiteracy on the part of millions of people daily searching for URLs instead of using the address bar."

Joseph Daniels seconds the notion, while also addressing another piece of the puzzle, namely why the word Google itself ranks so prominently: "Google search is an easy, fast and reliable way to get to Yahoo's page. Or, if you're using a Google search box built into the browser, it's even a fast way to get to Google's own page. You type in one word and click twice. People know this and use it. Bookmarks are faster, sure, but they're not perfect. A lot of people don't, can't or couldn't be bothered to organize and use them."

Idan in Tel-Aviv believes that Google deserves a slice of the credit here, even if it hasn't exactly been forthcoming in explaining why: "Google's search algorithms are frighteningly good. So much so, that nowadays even 'bad' queries with a combination of very general terms will often find you precisely what you're looking for, without need to refine your query. The effect of this is that even savvy searchers often start with an 'I'm Feeling Lucky' approach; enter their first guess at how to search for something, and find what they want. No need to get creative with search refinements anymore. Unsavvy users start at this stage as well, but don't progress onwards."

Ken Bliss puts a finer point on it all: "Us darn humans just can't figure out how to use simple computers, because it is not simple."

Now that we have that settled - apparently - there was another contribution from a post to the first item that deserves mention. In the original piece, we posited that the word Yahoo was "the undefeated heavyweight champ of search terms," because it outpaced anything else we typed into Google Trends. Well, as Howard Cosell might have called it, "Down goes Yahoo! Down goes Yahoo!"

"Just try checking Google Trends on 'download' and 'free' . . . they beat sex, Yahoo and whatnot by far," offers the reader. "That says something about search-engine users."

It says they're a bunch of freebie junkies, many of whom can't find their address bar with both hands.

(See reader comments on the original post here.)

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