Posted July 18, 2008 1:43 pm by with 27 comments

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Marhsall Kirkpatrick of Read Write Web makes a supposition that may be inherently incorrect.

A huge number of people online don’t know the difference between their browser’s address bar and search bar. Let’s keep that in perspective. What will it take for them to learn?

That particular point has created a great conversation over at Read Write Web including an extremely well thought out response from John Andrews.

The path to via Google is a richer experience for her [a user] than the direct navigation path, without much cognitive overhead and without much perceived risk.

To read John’s entire response head on over to Read Write Web. I however believe that another commenter, Jahbuh, got it right when he said;

The answer is very simple – People feel safer with Google correcting their mistakes than the typo sending them to a virus, porn laden site. How many times has a slip of the finger sent you to a site you would never visit? Do a Google search and even if you do a typo somehow Google still points you to the site you want to go to.

I don’t believe it is the advertising industry wanting to take advantage of inexperienced consumers, I don’t think it is a design issue of the navigation bar, and I don’t believe it is user ignorance that drives users to use Google and the other search engines for direct navigation.

I believe the majority of users use the search box for direct navigation because it provides a higher level of convenience and safe surfing. Should a user mistype a URL, if they are using a search engine, it will try to guess what the user actually intended and provide a set of search results that are free of any malicious software while providing the user with the opportunity to avoid any unwanted content.

For a number of years I believe a few individuals in the search marketing industry and some decision makers in companies promoting products that were perceived as malicious made business decisions that allowed them to make a lot of money while hardening users to the dangerous realities of the internet. This type of behavior and decision making is what changed the way users interact with the web.

Using search engines for direct navigation has almost become a common sense approach for many users because so many people in the past were infected with software that they didn’t want and had enormously difficult times removing. Gator was the name that became synonymous with the term “spy ware” and it along with other similar types of software I believe are what really changes the browsing habits of the general public.

What do you think, in this day and age can users really not tell the difference between a search engine’s search box and the navigation bar or is there a deeper relationship between users and search engines?

  • I use Firefox for my internet sessions but sometimes i have to use IE. And if i mistype the address it brings me to some stupid search page And CHANGES the address that i have typed to some redirected search page. And i cannot correct my spelling-error and have to type everything again. So with IE even i sometimes use google to type a address because it does not destroy my input.
    With Firefox i never do this.

  • It’s ridiculous how much I see this happening in analytics on my sites. I think a lot of it has to do w/ignorance.

    Utah SEO Pro’s last blog post..Advanced Keyword Research for SEO

  • As a hosting provider we get a lot of support queries from users who cannot tell the difference between the address bar and searching via google (or another search engine on their default homepage)

  • I think it is purely convenience that makes people chose a search engine instead of the address bar to navigate to a site.

    Users who do this make a mental calculation what will be the most probable way to get to a homepage. And for most people this is simply by going to a website typing in where they want to go and then they can actually go there.

    I think it’s only the geeks who remember all these website URL – average people think of something else.

    But this “bad” memory of Web addresses leads me to a question: What is the use of putting your web address on a car? How many people will actually visit a website that they have seen promoted on a car? Or does it make the owner feel “modern”?

  • Bernhard – not remembering the web address of a random website is one thing, but not remembering your own company site?


  • I watch someone I work with regularly type in their request in Google on purpose even if they know the URL. I have no idea why this habit has been formed and I don’t even really care. Just seems odd but I guess it works for them.

    Frank Reed’s last blog post..Blogs Are USELESS! Thanks for The Update ???????. I Guess

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  • PS3

    Funnily enough, I didn’t realise until a couple of days ago that you can put a search term in the address bar and it will run a default Google search (I am using Firefox)

  • I think that it is just a habit formed from the time when you could not use the address bar to search for urls.

    Nicole Price’s last blog post..Discounted T Shirts

  • Many people just dont get it. I have a client that called us up and said that since they moved to us their email is now not working, they were putting their email address in the search bar and their email was not being displayed.

    We take a lot for granted and assume people understand basic things, well…..

  • I have seen an AOL user a few years ago and it was an experience for me. That user did NOT know the difference between SEARCH BOX and ADDRESS bar.

    The address bar was pretty much ignored like the status bar. It changes values when you browse, but it looks often cryptic and technical that you rather don’t touch (and “break”).

    I asked that use to type a specific URL into the ADDRESS bar. The user started typing it into the search box. I said “Please enter it into the address bar and not into the search box”… The response that I got was “What do you mean?”.

    People click on links and follow them, they click on the back button and use a search box, if present and prominent, especially dial-up users or users with a browser that was customized by the ISP/Cable or DSL provider. The Address bar shows usually some URL, the users homepage at the ISP, which is still in most cases very cryptic to non-tech/inexperienced computer users. The search box is always empty or pre-filled with an inviting text that invites the user to enter something.

    However, there is also the type of user that does use it as you describe it, but those are often users on an intermediate level of understanding of the Internet and the web browser.


  • When looking at analytics, and evaluating what people are typing into search engines to get to pages I have to concur that lots of people are using search engines instead of the address bar to navigate. This is more prevalent for more complicated URL’s than simple ones.

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  • I’m in disbelief: free from malicious content in the results? Have these people never seen The Yes Men?

    MJ Ray’s last blog post..Lug! Radio! Live! 2008!

  • Great post. I think it really depends on the demographics of the visitor. Very valid point about AOL users as well…

    Nick Stamoulis’s last blog post..Search Engine Optimization – Should We Lose The Name

  • Chris

    I’ve been supporting home and enterprises users for 10 years as a sys admin, service tech, wireless i-net installer, and more – browsing direct domains from a search engine is a result ignorance, plain and simple. Perhaps 95%, it’s truly not knowing any better.

    More interestingly, this just exemplifies the hardest truth of all – we’ll never be a true “online society” until the folks that just don’t get it fade away. I figured out how to use the address bar the second day I was on the internet (~1997). My kids were born using the address bar. Small details, but then again, so was learning how to program a VCR….

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  • My wife is in the group of people that regularly type a company name into the search box rather than entering the URL in the address bar. When I saw her do this for the first time, I questioned her about it and she said that she just finds it easier to type in “Amazon” or whatever and click the resulting link than to enter the full URL in the address bar.

    Derek’s last blog post..Q&A Round 3 :: The Answers

  • I caught my friend doing this the other day. He pointed out that when he opens a browser window the curser is already in the Google search box. He would have to click the navigation bar before he can type a URL. With Google, he can begin typing as soon as the browser window loads.

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  • Interestingly enough, I came back to read this article because all of a sudden today I’m unable to use the address bar in FF3 to get to a website and have been using the Google search box beside it since that seems to be working.

    So, another reason could be browser failure lol.

    Trisha Lyn Fawver’s last blog post..Online Marketing Glossary: Parasite

  • Ask an average Joe/Jane how to use Google and the how to use the web address bar in their browser and you will get your answer for this little phenomenon. Nothing really interesting here. Average users are trained to type into fields now and don’t use the web address bar as much. I bet most have trouble even knowing where it is.

    Jaan Kanellis’s last blog post..Google Bomb No More Says Washington Post Blog?

  • I read all with great interest, but truth is if people get to a site I have had anything to do with I’m happy. The glitch we have recently come across is this; We have a site that when you type the address into the address bar goes to the site, but when you type the same address into google or yahoo it goes to a blog/comment page that has nothing to do with the actual site!! We also found some unknown files in the CGI bin!! Any suggestions???

  • google is great because they have a smart search engine… if you don’t spell something right, they will ask you… i still prefer to type in the address bar because its a lot faster and i autocomplete which makes it even faster… but to be safe sometimes i guess you may want to search the big G

    Millionaire’s last blog (Meet Rich People Online)

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  • Jood

    This is hell on campaigns with un-indexed URLs for landing pages. If we have a free gift offer on a dark page that we intentionally keep away from the search engines, we end up with scores of users writing to us to complain that they can’t get to the address in the mailer they received. We’ve even had legal threats, claiming we were pulling a bait-and-switch.

    In reality, it was a user who couldn’t figure out the difference between a search engine and the address bar. It’s amazing.

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