Search and Email Still Primary Online Activities

Some new information released following a May 2011 Pew Internet survey may be helpful to marketers looking to target different demographics of Web users.

The results of the study show that, to no one's surpise, search engines and email are the most common online activities. In fact, 92 percent of online adults say that they use search engines to find information on the Internet, and over half (59 percent) say they do so on a typical day. And though searching is clearly popular among most Internet-using adults, it is actually tied at 92 percent with the number of people who use email. On top of that, 61 percent of respondants say that they use electronic mail on an average day.

For years now, in fact ever since the Pew Internet Project began, searching and emailing have been the two most popular online activities. The following graph shows how the two have compared to some other leading online endeavors over the years.

As you can see, email has consistently been the most popular use of the Internet among average adults. Typically, according to the study, younger online adults, those who are college educated and those in the highest income categories are more likely than others to utilize email. These difference among demographics becomes more conspicuous when that data is broken down to look at email use in a typical day. Here is a chart that breaks down email use by various demographics into two subsections, those who just use email and those who typically use it on a daily basis.

Search is easily more popular among younger adult users, typically those ages 18-29. In fact, 96 percent of this group use search engines to track down information on the Web. While that is a lot, it's not as if there's some phenomenal generation gap when it comes to search engines; 87 of the oldest Internet users (which consists of those 65 and older) use search engines as their primary method of collecting information as well. Below is a chart on search engine use broken down by the same demographics and user tendencies as the one above.

Both searching and emailing have long constituted the core of online communication and information gathering, respectively, even as newer platforms, broadband and mobile devices have started to quickly alter the way in which Americans use the Web. Analyses of the study point to the increasingly habitual use of both email and search engines as a potential reason for why it has maintained such steady popularity. Comparing these new studies with older information shows use that while approximately 60 percent of adults engage in each of these activities on an average day, 2002 saw only 49 percent  of adults using email and just 29 percent using a search engine on a daily basis.

But what does this mean for potential marketers? Well, for starters, it clearly shows where they need to be focusing most of their attention on the Internet. Placing ads on search engines seems like an obvious way to increase impressions, but other methods, most notably search engine optimization, can help to increase your presence on search engines because, as this study shows, everybody across all demographics is used to utilizing search engines.

Email also has a broad range of possible marketing techniques, and with so many potential consumers being attracted to using it, there is no reason not to take advantage. Sending newsletters, special promotions and providing new product information are just a few of the things that you can do to market yourself via email. Of course, it's important to check your use, because nothing is going to hurt your reputation more than becoming notorious for spamming. But, if you have something relevant to say, it would certainly be in your best interest to utilize what has long been the most consistently popular online activity to promote yourself.

Yeah, this study's results don't tell us anything too shocking, but they do serve to reinforce the idea that focusing on these two key areas in Internet usage is by no means a waste of your time. And, as the findings also point out, they're both becoming increasingly more popular among all demographics, which means that you are now reaching out to a wider audience. Sometimes it's best to just go with what you know works, I suppose.