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Search and the College Student




People spend considerable time trying to understand younger people and their use of the Internet. They are the first generation to have grown up with the Internet as part of their existence as opposed to older folks like myself who were “disrupted” by the online space as an adult.

We like to paint the picture of the tech savvy youngster who can text with one hand, update a status with another while holding a conversation on a speaker phone. They are the Internet’s version of super heroes. We look at their seeming ease of going from one technology to another and wonder what the world might look like when they are at the height of their working lives.

One interesting point that often gets lost in the social media centered lives of this group is the fact that the one thing they are truly addicted to is the one we push to the side more often than not these days: search. Look at this chart from a study conducted by ebrary (and reported by eMarketer).

This study takes a look at where students turn when they want facts. They are not polling their friends to learn the latest theories about economics or whatever else they are studying. They are looking for what they perceive to be the facts. I say perceive since it has also been found that they will go to a search engine before they go to a printed publication despite the perception that the printed word is a more reliable source of data (which in my opinion is still a very subjective thing because there are plenty of books and theories that are pure crap).

All of this is to simply say that search isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Sure social media is going to feed search with its signals and that may change results (although I am not convinced that is for the better which is another subject altogether). If the habit of search as a “go to” measure is already ingrained in someone it is going to carry through to the rest of their lives. Now, the need for academic research tails off considerably for most after college but there are still plenty of instances where someone would prefer “facts” vs. the opinions of their social peers.

Of course, the thing to remember in all of this is that just because it shows up in a search engine it is by no means to be considered a true fact without further investigation. It could be that college kids are spoiled and a bit lazy since going to Google or Bing certainly beats heading to a library. Who knows.

No matter what the reason, search is a vital part of the college experience which virtually assures its importance in the real world. So if you feel the need to say that search is dying or that the need for SEO is waning then you can go right ahead. People will read your rants and you will anger SEO’s so it will look like someone is paying attention. The reality is any claim that search is taking a back seat to social is misinformed. Search will always be important if, for no other reason, that it can narrow millions of choices down to a manageable few. Whether they are the best choices or not is another thought for another day.

Your thoughts?