Top Internet Activities? Search & Email, Once Again

What’s the most popular internet activity? It’s a tie between those perennial winners, search and email. A new survey finds both are done by 92% of online adults in the United States.

Most Popular Activities

The stats come from a Pew Internet survey from May 2011, out today. Here’s the trend chart from the survey:

You can see from the chart that both email and search have been the most popular internet activities since Pew has run these type of surveys back in 2002. Typically, email has been just slightly more popular than search, but the two are tied at being conducted by 92% of internet users.

This latest survey on search was conducted from April 26 through May 22, 2011 and had a sample of 2,277 adults, those 18 years and older.

The Rise Of Social Networks & News Seeking

In other activities, getting online news (76%) has held overtaking buying products online (71%) for the second year running.

Especially notable is that social networking use has continued rising out of nowhere to 65%. That seems likely to move higher in future years.

Keep in mind that the data for all these activities come from different reports that Pew conducts at different times. The search figures came from a survey done earlier this year, as mentioned. The email figures came from a survey done in November 2010 but are reported as for 2011.

It’s not said when the surveys for the other three activities were conducted. You can read more about all this in the longer PDF version of the Pew report here.

Email & Search Are Habits

When asked about daily use (as opposed to any use), email was just slightly ahead of search, with 61% saying they do email daily, versus 59% who say they search each day.

This daily use also has grown over time, making search and email have become more “habitual.” Pew writes:

Perhaps the most significant change over that time is that both activities have become more habitual. Today, roughly six in ten online adults engage in each of these activities on a typical day; in 2002, 49% of online adults used email each day, while just 29% used a search engine daily.

The Demographics Of Daily Search Usage

Pew also provided a demographic breakdown of search usage (one of email usage is also included in the survey):

From the breakdown, daily searching is most popular with:

  • Men, 61% versus 57% of women
  • Whites, 60% versus 57% of African Americans and 48% of Hispanics
  • 18-29 year-olds, 66% versus 64% for 30-49 year-olds, 52% of 50-64 year-olds and 37% of those 65 years or older
  • College graduates, 75% versus 66% with some college education, 41% of high school grads and 29% with some high school education
  • Those earning $75,000 or more, 78%, versus $30-$45,000 at 67%, $50-$75,000 at 66% and less than $30,000 at 38%

As you can see, in terms of daily use, most of the differences are fairly slight. Hispanics, those 50 and older, with only some high school education and those earning less than $30,000 per year are the only groups that do daily searching at less than 50%.

In terms of any use, the differences are even less. All but one group (those with some high school education) report that they have used search engines at some point in the high 80% range and above.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Stats: Popularity | Stats: Search Behavior | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Nickolass

    Hi Danny

    Thanks for sharing. I haven’t read the PEW report yet, but that seems too be a good idea for us to digg into.

    I’d like to discuss the fact (wich I find very interesting) that the share of daily searching for people making less than $30,000 is as low as 38%, wich is almost half the share of people earning $75,000 or more.

    This leads me to a hypothesis that 1) iliterates in US have a very low income in the US. and that 2) iliterates have trouble using search.

    So If I am right at point 2, what does this then mean for search marketers?
    And what does it mean for Search providers?

    Greetings from Norway.

  • Ian Murphy

    Amazed that email is still so high.

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