Is Search Still the Dominant Way People Use to Answer Questions?


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Have you ever overheard a friend trying to remember that actor’s name from that one movie with the scary bad guy or a co-worker hopelessly wondering how to properly sauté spinach and you just want to say “Google it!” but it almost seems too obvious? While search engines provide instantaneous access to information, sometimes we yearn for a more personal answer from a trusted resource or a friend.

In these circumstances one might turn to a social network, blast out an email or even go retro and make a phone call. To see how instincts can steer the decision making process, we surveyed 400 people to find out where they collect their answers. We asked our survey participants the following:

For the following questions, please tell us, based on pure instinct, what would be your first, second, and third choice for finding answers to your daily queries.

  1. Contact Friends Directly (phone call, email, text or instant message…) (Direct)
  2. Contact Friends Using Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+…) (Social)
  3. Use a Web Search (Google, Bing, Yahoo…) (Search)

Each of our questions had a certain slant in mind. We made our predictions as to how each question would be answered and our predictions were as follows:


Prior to starting this study, we predicted that Search would take the top spot for 4 questions, and that Social and Direct would take 3 each. Much to our surprise,search ended up taking ten out of ten categories:


Show Methodology


We surveyed 400 people via Mechanical Turk. Before you scoff at the results, take a moment and read about the demographics of Mechanical Turk here. While the average income levels are a bit lower than the US population, we don’t see that as significantly biasing the results of the test.

As you will see when you return to the main post page with the results, social media usage and computer usage by respondents is quite high. For example, 94% of respondents say they use Facebook (whereas the general US population is just a bit north of 50%).

Each respondent was paid a small fee for their response. Incomplete responses, and those that were filled with obvious errors were discarded.

All the votes were tabulated via two methods:

  1. Counting total 1st place votes
  2. Counting 1st place votes as 3 points, 2nd place votes as 2 points, and 3rd place votes as 1 point

What does this mean? It could mean that while social networks are extremely popular, people still rely on search engines for real questions. It could mean that the questions we posed were too heavily in favor of search. It could even mean that the people we surveyed don’t use social media much at all, but as it turns out, that wasn’t the case:

  1. 94% of respondents use Facebook
  2. 69% have asked questions on Facebook
  3. 53% use Twitter
  4. 47% use Google+

It might mean that the respondents are simply not that computer savvy, but when we asked what percentage of time at their job involves computer usage…

42% said between 75-100% and 20% said between 50-75%

For those of you who like raw numbers, here is a more detailed look at the results:

final chart

The weighted results count each 1st place vote at 3 points, each 2nd place vote at 2 points, and each 3rd place votes at 1 point. Even when you tally the votes this way, search still wins 10 out of 10 times.

Personally, I really enjoy posing a question on a social network and seeing how my friends chime in with answers that neither I nor a search engine would have come up with. Our best guess as to why search went 10/10 is a timing issue. I love watching my friends’ answers come in, but I also have to wait. Waiting for friends to respond might be too much of a wait for most people in today’s “instant satisfaction” world. Where do you go when you have a head-stumper? We’d love to know.

Below is a question-by-question breakdown of the aggregate score for each question.











Republished with author's permission from original post.

Eric Enge
Eric Enge is a partner at Stone Temple Consulting (STC), which has been providing SEO Consulting services for over 5 years. STC has worked with a wide range of clients, ranging from small silicon valley start-ups, to Fortune 25 companies. Eric is also co-author of The Art of SEO book.


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