Do You Google or Yahoo? What It Says About You.

Demographic differences between the major search providers.

Hitwise has done an excellent job of providing some extremely interesting data the past few years in regards to demographic profiling. This is an ever-evolving science that has been fascinating to track over time. A plethora of studies have been published in this general area, from providers like Pew and Harris Interactive, but I tend to find the most interesting information comes from Hitwise.

In early 2008 Hitwise provided some insights on the spread of age demographics using the top two search engines, Google and Yahoo. Counter to what I had seen in reports ranging back to the 2004-2005 time frame, Yahoo has actually become more popular with younger audiences (in relative terms). As far as percentage of searches, 42.5 percent of Yahoo searchers are under the age of 35, while only 38.3 percent of Google's audience falls into that category. The numbers are basically reversed in the 45+ age ranges, with Google holding a 38.8 percent to 35.2 percent lead in audience makeup.

So what does this mean? To me, this means that Yahoo still plays an important role in terms of brand identity online. In many instances, with Google gobbling up more and more search engine market share, marketers have focused their entire search marketing initiative on Google. Particularly in terms of brand perception and awareness, something that's proving to be an increasingly important element in paid search and search engine optimization campaigns, Yahoo shouldn't be ignored. Particularly if you're positioning a product for the younger demographic, there's still a sizeable audience to be reached through Yahoo.

Perception is one thing, revenue is another. Hitwise also reported on purchasing differences between Google and Yahoo searchers. The study was over a four week period and it showed that searchers using Google were significantly more likely to have spent more than $500 online. The study further breaks up lifestyle demographics into quadrants and shows each group's likelihood to use Google and/or Yahoo, and each group's likelihood to have surpassed the $500 spend. Not surprisingly, highly sought after lifestyle groups such as ‘Affluent Suburbia' and ‘Upscale America' trend toward larger spends, but more importantly, they show a significant preference towards Google. The groups least likely to meet the $500 spend in that time frame were most likely to use Yahoo. Now I wish I had the information on why this is the case, but that is not yet clear.

I take two things away from this, however. First is that Google, regardless of it's market share, still may not cover all of your bases in terms of your online marketing goals. It's important to keep an eye on the types of audiences in your search engine marketing planning process. Immense amounts of data are out there, seek them out and use them! Secondly, if your goals are built around driving sales (particularly big ticket items), gearing your search engine marketing plan heavily towards Google, at least initially, may be a good place to start. Of course, this is only in the initial planning phases, and each case is unique. Closely tracking your own campaigns and doing your own testing and analytics is the best research you can do. The author of this article is a Managing Partner of Michigan Internet marketing firm Netvantage Marketing, providing clients with search engine optimization, pay per click management, web analytics consulting services, and online marketing strategy.