In Will Mainstream Users Ever Learn About The Browser's Address Bar?, Marshall probes a bit into how people use the browser's search box vs. the address bar.

A lot of people seem surprised to learn that tons of people every day are "searching" for or or just "ebay" or "aol" even though they can type those things into their address bar and get exactly what they want.

I think part of the problem is the myth perpetuated by the search companies themselves. They all know that the top search terms every year are not "britney spears" or "ipone" or whatever.

They're domain names or domain names without the .com on the end of them. Lots of people search Google every day for "yahoo." People search Yahoo for "google." And AOL. And eBay. And so on.

They all filter out those "navigational" queries when reporting those things. I'm not sure who they're trying to protect by doing so, but I certainly could speculate.

Everyone in the search business seems to mostly get this. The folks at those big destinations (like eBay) know this too. They have logs. But the rest of the techie population on-line seems to believe that normal people use the web the same we do.

They don't. And they never will.

Get it through your collective heads, please.

People don't get DNS, domain names, or the difference between searching and direct navigation. And since they all know what it means "to google" that's exactly what they do. You can either accept that or deny the truth.

That's why you're seeing numbers like this every quarter.

This ends today's reality check. Please go back to trying to change the world by explaining what the address bar is for. :-)

Oh, here's a bonus tip: normal people can't tell the difference between AdSense style ads and all the other links on most web sites. And almost the same number don't know what "sponsored results" on the Search Results Page are either. It's just a page of links to them. They click the ones that look like they'll get them what they want. It's that simple.

Posted by jzawodn at July 17, 2008 05:21 PM

Reader Comments
# Marshall Kirkpatrick said:

Yes, all fair, though there are some people bringing up excellent comments on our site in defense of the non-geek user's dignity, too.

The part of your post about AdWords reminds me of a survey I read awhile ago. Some tiny percentage of users were able to tell the difference between paid and natural search results, then once away from the computer almost all of them when asked said that the best ways to make it clear would be: putting paid links in a colored box, putting them in a different section of the page and putting the words "sponsored links" near them!! lol

on July 17, 2008 05:30 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


I don't think the behavior needs to be defended at all. It's what it is. People want to argue about it, but what's the point?

on July 17, 2008 05:33 PM
# Keith Teare said:

Hey Jeremy

You're right. It's why I did RealNames (and why it is still needed :-) ).


on July 17, 2008 06:10 PM
# Clayton O'Neill said:

I frequently use the search box instead of the location bar. Searching for part of the domain name then clicking is faster than typing the whole domain name and sometimes having to correct a typo. Even if I typo the domain, it's almost always the first hit on Google anyway.

on July 17, 2008 06:16 PM
# Sam said:

You're giving away all the secrets! Pretty soon you'll tell them that they don't need a toolbar with the search engine in the chrome!

Y & G

on July 17, 2008 07:15 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Sam, that's okay. "They" don't read this anyway. :-)

on July 17, 2008 07:33 PM
# Ethan said:

I saw a blog entry from Japan where companies were starting to advertise using the graphic of a search box _filled in with the relevant term_ to get that company's web-page. It probably has more to do with lack of good names, but it's easier (for some people) to remember a set of terms than a specific address–similar to remembering directions.

The difference in how the techno-literate and the non use the web was driven home when I tried to help a friend teach his mom the internet. She read the page left to right, top to bottom. We skipped over ads, quickly finding content because our filters had been trained. She could do this in a newspaper or magazine, but the new medium was…new, and she needed to learn the filters to use when reading a webpage.

on July 17, 2008 07:36 PM
# Jeffrey Pryor said:

Regarding the companies that may 'filter out those "navigational" queries', Google Trends at least may provide some insight, according to Google . . . more folks there are searching for Yahoo than Google or Ebay or AOL . . .


on July 17, 2008 07:51 PM
# Morgan said:

The fact that the original article expressed so much surprise is a clue toward why the tech blogging scene seems so myopic. You would have to have never seen a referrer log for a site in order to be surprised by this.

Besides which, the reason the behavior exists to some degree is that it works-- the address box usually searches in lieu of a domain name, and the search box returns links to sites if you search on a domain name. Big surprise that people don't really care.

Another "why are people so stupid, ha ha aren't those users stupid" post from a generally disconnected group of bloggers. In my opinion.

on July 17, 2008 08:25 PM
# Charlie Anzman said:

Jeremy .... I use 'average user testing' (IE: With real people as opposed to fancy tools) all the time. You are soooooo right. I even know 'techies' who do the URL in the search box thing!

on July 17, 2008 08:50 PM
# Peter Steinberg said:

Need more evidence that people use the search box to find simple URLs? Look at the Google Trends chart for "Amazon". Notice a pattern? ;)

Peter Steinberg

on July 17, 2008 09:58 PM
# Hanan Cohen said:

Yesterday I was interviewed about one of my sites.

The journalist asked me to spell the URL so he can get that correctly. I said "don't bother, just tell your readers to Google the name. That's what they do anyway".

on July 17, 2008 10:37 PM
# Srikanth Thunga said:

It might change with widespread adoption of awesome bar in all browsers...

on July 18, 2008 12:49 AM
# humped back wail said:


The reason for this is very simple, my home page is set to Google, when the browser starts the cursor is on the search box. To switch to the address bar, I would first have to switch to using the mouse, click, switch to the keyboard, type the address including extension, then switch back to the mouse to surf.

If I just type 'yahoo' into the box, I can eliminate one switch of the mouse, (and save typing the extension), it's one extra click once I've switched to the mouse, but I'm going to be clicking around anyway, so this is not important.

It's just people finding little shortcuts.

on July 18, 2008 02:17 AM
# Mike Woodhouse said:

I feel so much better now- I thought it was my communication ability that was lacking in my failure to explain to my wife that the address bar could be used to get somewhere, rather than just showing where you are.

We have started to bookmark, but not to put them into folders.

She still doesn't get thermostats, either.

on July 18, 2008 04:09 AM
# Kip said:

My understanding is that users do this because its easier. If you accidentally type "micorsoft", Google says "Did you mean micorsoft?". You don't have to keep up with whether a site is .com, .org, .net, .tv, etc. So you can just search Google for White House and don't end up getting fired for accidentally looking at porn while at work. And you never get an ugly, user-unfriendly 404 page.

on July 18, 2008 05:44 AM
# Rob said:


Your last point:"normal people can't tell the difference between AdSense style ads and all the other links on most web sites. And almost the same number don't know what "sponsored results" on the Search Results Page are either...."

Is so dead on correct. I have watched users do a search at an engine and just click the link at the top of the page... assuming it's the right one! It's amazing user behavior.

on July 18, 2008 11:26 AM
# Rocky said:

Don't forget porn.

All the search terms filter sex-related terms out of their year end top searches list.

Yahoo is the only one to outperform sex. eBay and AOL vastly underperform.

on July 18, 2008 03:29 PM
# Rick S said:

I've watched my wife use search engines in lieu of the
URL/address bar. Asked her why, basically she's not
interested in having to remember the URLs, why there
are URLs, etc. So her algorithm is search to find, then
bookmark. Not even toolbar bookmark. But when I look at
her bookmarks, they're all high signal/noise bookmarks - she
isn't marking a site somewhere well inside the web site. I've seen this behavior in others. No real big deal, and given how fragile the actual URL is (to mistyping), then then possible fallout via all the intelligent DNS redirection that goes on, I'm half tempting to retire that part of my inner geek and use Google search to navigate ;-)

on July 20, 2008 05:33 AM
# SEO Paladin said:

I agree with the post's premise re: uninformed users, but my search habits reflect humped back wail's: having the cursor in Google's searchbox reduces that extra step of having to use my mouse (saving me a second or so). And I use the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button religiously. A 'direct search' query for me is typically type-tab-tab and I'm at my destination - all without having to use my mouse. Much quicker, much simpler...

If Google was to ever remove the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button, I'd probably consider using the address bar more, or switching to Mahalo :)

on July 25, 2008 09:29 AM
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