Posted March 21, 2008 4:30 pm by with 42 comments

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This week, usability guru Jakob Nielsen asks: “How difficult is it to perform a search on Google?

No, really. How hard is it? We know the search box in the upper right hand corner of your screen can get there. We know that in the address bar can get there. But, sadly, Nielsen’s study indicated that at least 24% of Internet users don’t know that. It hurts me just to type it.

A quarter of Internet users said they wanted to search Google for something, but when placed in front of a computer, couldn’t figure it out. “Instead, they either completely failed to get to any search engine or ended up running their query on a different search engine — usually whatever type-in field happened to be at hand.”

Nielsen breaks this mind-boggling stat down for us:

On the one hand, 76% is a high success rate. On the other hand, getting to Google is a very simple task. It’s not even a true task — that is, it’s not something users want to accomplish for its own sake or something we’d pose as an assignment in user testing. Getting a Google search box is the first step in searching the Web, which is only the first step in doing something real (such as, in one of our test tasks, to find “a strong vacuum cleaner that is easy to use, can pick up pet hair, and costs under $300”).

Also, for this round of research we’re deliberately recruiting above-average users, so the success rate across all Internet users is probably lower than our finding.

Suddenly, The Onion’s article a few months back about “” doesn’t look quite so funny:

All you have to do to turn the website on is put the little blinking line thing in the cyberspace window at the top of the screen, type ‘,’ and press ‘return’—although it will also recognize,, and ‘THEGOOGLE’ typed into a Word document.”

Maybe there’s a real need for remedial Internet…

Nielsen’s overall point was to remind us all that our average user, and the web audience at large, doesn’t understand the Internet the way we do. Unfortunately, I think the net effect of his findings will be lowered self-esteem among SEMs and a generalized funk to last over the next several days. (Exacerbated, of course, by your alma mater losing in the first round of the NCAAs. Again. Come on, I know I’m not the only one. I know you Drake fans are mad, too.)


  • There was a reason why AOL was so popular, and for a while, profitable. It WAS the “remedial internet”. It was a standardized, consistent experience for a lot of people. Sometimes we advanced users forget that the more options we get in our browsing and searching experiences, the less easy it is for Joe Sixpack.

  • I bet the stats are similar for those that fail to figure out how to open a web browser in the first place. 😉

  • John Vinson

    Well in a world where most people don’t know who the vice president is, nothing surprises me. You would think Google is just common knowledge by now with pretty much everyone. But here in Kentucky you’d be surprised how many people are still running 56k *shudder*, let alone what search engine to use.

    Oh and way to go WKY…had them upsetting Drake in my bracket, but what a game..can’t help but love seeing a game end on a last second shot

  • Wow… I’d say that’s unbelievably sad, but then I think back to some people I know and it’s not that bad.

  • Jordan McCollum

    @John—Not a Drake or WKY fan, but WOAH. Game of the day.

  • PS3

    How scary is that? If a quarter of people can’t even perform basic tasks, it’s hardly surprising that so many have no control over internet shopping or fall prey to scams.

  • Ugh, just shoot me now. Well I suppose there’s a good side – it’s a filter so that if people actually get to your website, they aren’t as clueless as the folks who can’t even figure out how to get there in the first place.

  • This is probably why Google’s market share isn’t closer to 100%.

  • The thing is… I don’t care if 24% can’t find Google on their first attempt. What would be really scary is if they can’t figure it out the second time!

  • user

    And most of them are vista haters. lol
    If they knew what they’re talking about

  • I don’t find that strange. I have been in touch with a lot of users who has problems “finding” google. If I can guess, I bet that 12% of those 24%, is the users that gets other users to google for them..
    As long as they don’t google as their startpage and gets used to it, they won’t be the usual visitors of google.

  • I consider, what not each user should know about Google. If user is not able to use a computer will learn later

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  • Some of my relatives must have been included in that study. 🙂 Seriously, I think we have to admit to being elitists when it comes to the Internet. We make our living off the darn thing, for Pete’s sake. There are people out there who rarely ever log on. For them, it’s purely incidental.

    I recall a former client of mine whom I was attempting to assist over the phone. I told her to type a certain URL into the browser. She responded by saying the site I was referencing was not coming up. Turned out, she was type the URL into the search field on Yahoo. (Yahoo happened to be her start page.) She had no clue as to how to use the URL field in a browser. It was sad. Gladly, however, I can say she isn’t one of my relatives!

  • this is a problem about users not being educated properly on how to use the internet. although google is directly affected by it.

    they can launch am information campaign, tv commercials, flyers, etc.. to teach the general public how to find them on the internet

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  • I recently put up a new website and gave the address to a co-worker. Since it was brand new, it hadn’t yet been indexed by Google and she was going to have to enter the URL directly. Since she works with a computer every single day, I didn’t think that would be a problem.

    The next day, she told me she couldn’t find the site. Apparently, she had been typing the name of the site into the Google box on her browser and it didn’t find it. I asked why she didn’t type the address I gave her into the long address bar at the top and she had no idea what I was talking about. When I showed her my address bar, she said hers had no such thing. It turns out that both of her home and work computers had so many strange, spyware-ish toolbars installed that the location bar was completely hidden.

    And THAT is from someone I considered to be at least moderately competent with basic stuff (until now, anyway).

  • 24%? Really? I can understand if they weren’t familiar with computers at all….but a mentioned before, they wouldn’t be able to get a browser up in the first place, that wouldn’t be shocking. To know they use the internet and just don’t know is surprising, though. Where did they find these people?

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  • curlew

    I teach new computer usetrs. 80% of applicants have used a computer for years but are not adventurous in their use or are afraid of “breaking something”. Most have no idea about “right-click” or know what “dialogue box” means. Changing their default (Windows IE) to Google is beyond their mind set. Most have all settings at “default” and believe that they are fixed.
    When 30%, or more leave High School without Graduating and with relatively low literacy achievement we shouldn’t be surprised that they, amongst others, are lacking in many “technical: areas of activity.
    Microsoft and others forgot to “K.I.S.S.” User Interfaces (Keep It Simple, Silly).
    I have overviewed a number of school computer tuition classes and regret that the tutors often know less than some of the students. The work is often on the basis of, “get it the first time, or get left behind” instead of working at the newbie level.
    “We. who know, often forget what it was like to Not Know and the fear that has to be overcome to understand”.
    Yet there is hope. Nil Desperandum

  • freight88

    24 % is probably low. With those who do not browse or use the internet daily this would be a task. I believe that percentage is higher.

  • I prefer Yahoo! search.

  • I recently bought a new laptop and gave my old one to my Dad who is 74. Now, this man is a licensed Amateur Radio Operator who can design and build an antenna out of scraps and talk to Australia! So he is not uneducated by any means but his old system had Windows 95! The Dell laptop I gave him runs XP Pro with a Vista Extension so he was in AWE! I didn’t ask him if he could find Google…he was too excited about being able to check his JUNO email! LOL!

  • @freight88, the study was for internet users specifically, but I totally agree – out of the greater public as a whole, the number of people able to access Google would be pretty poor.

  • Freight88

    @Robert, I think this is why Apple is getting a larger footprint. The ease of use for those who are not full time on the internet.

  • You might be right although I think Apple users’ browsers point to Google as their homepages. I know Firefox browsers do. Maybe some Apple/Safari users can chime in?

    A lot of my friends love Apple for their simplicity though. And I bet they’d not know too easily where to find Google. Sounds stupid, but it would sound like it to us “tech-heads”.

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  • Sounds like my first year online, teaching myself instead of taking a class or two.

    Does 74% remind anybody of the 80/20 rule? Applying it to the top 20% gives you only 5% of the original population that deliberately and persistantly chose to learn how to effectively phrase and filter a series of searches.

    btw, I have a relative with no computer at all.

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  • Zen

    Very interesting article. Although I wouldn’t say it’s because of a non user friendly UI. I think it’s due more to the cause of people being not so web-smart.

  • Jordan McCollum

    It has nothing to do with the user interface. These people never see Google’s user interface—they can’t find Google itself.

  • I love it. As a web designer, I continually run in to people that want websites and don’t have a clue how they work, much less the browser they use. I make money on a daily basis from training these folks and I don’t mind a bit.

  • This is not funny at all. I work with companies implementing crm software, and many of them do not even know what CRM is! Some ceos are told that crm is good for business and they start seeking crm vendors without knowing the true meaning of CRM. This is not funny because most smart people when introducesd to something they never heared of or for the first time, they act like children, and this is human nature dudes! What we should be thinking of is the percentage of people that will fail to get to google after thier first introduction! I bet most will be successful at it the second time!!:)

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