URLs and searching

This is something that I’ve observed with amusement in my short time as tech support/reference librarian: people who sit down at a computer to visit a specific website, and instead of typing in the easy URL (for example, http://www.simmons.edu) they do a search (“simmons boston”). And I always wonder — why? I regularly guess at URLs rather than search for a website, and more often than not (especially with large companies or well-known brands) I’m right. (Let’s not talk about how I can never remember how to spell . . . Amtrack? Amtrak?) Does this mean people just don’t understand what a URL is, and the component pieces? Or does it point more to the popularity of using bookmarks/favorites, and the fact that once you don’t have to remember something, you won’t remember it? It’s sort of like having a cell phone — there are very few people whose phone numbers I actually know offhand. Or is it just that I’m that much more comfortable on the Internet than a lot of folks?

When I started seeing commercials that instruct the viewer to “search Honda on Yahoo!” or whatever, I really started to wonder: does searching online really make more sense to people than remembering or jotting down an easy URL? According to a recent post on ReadWriteWeb:

. . . the answer appears to be a somewhat surprising “yes.” Of the 10 fastest rising search terms on Google last year, 7 were for searches where adding a “.com” would have brought the user to the correct site. These are called “navigational” searches — searches done when the user already knows exactly where he or she wants to end up — and they make up a surprising large number of total seaches.

I wait for the day when someone uses the Google seach box built into Firefox to get to Google and do a search.

In ever-so-slightly related news, a post in March caught my eye as well: “The Internet will end in 30 years!” This talks about a flaw in the way Unix-based systems store the time. The really interesting thing is that this flaw might affect things like traffic lights and gas pumps and other systems like that, which I think a lot of people don’t even really think about as having anything to do with “computers” in the general sense. The piece also mentions that “legacy systems” and “embedded systems” might also be affected — makes me wonder how many ILS’ will randomly stop working at 3:14 AM on January 19, 2038. Will this force vendors to start afresh with new systems? Will there be an increase in libraries switching to new systems in 2023 and 2024? How many  years prior to 2038 will people start worrying about this in the library literature and in the biblioblogosphere? Anyway, just thought that was interesting and have been meaning to share it.


5 thoughts on “URLs and searching

  1. On URLs. In fact, I have seen your former fellow GSLIS Lab workers do the same thing for Simmons content, because it’s easier to type a few words fast and pick – especially for anything with a slash in it – and especially if you are prone to typos, which Google will help you with and directly typing URLs will not. . I find myself doing the same thing sometimes too.

  2. That’s true. And for anything beyond the main page (especially on that site as it currently exists) it’s hard to know where to go. I had an unfair advantage, so using Simmons as an example was probably not ideal. 😉

  3. I have noticed this behavior too. Here, the URL for the library is library dot southalabama dot edu, but students consistently start at either the university homepage or the USA Online page, then go through a series of several clicks to get to the page. Same thing to get to their email.

    I’ve also noticed that one of my coworkers uses quick repetitive searches as a stand-in for bookmarks.

  4. //When I started seeing commercials that instruct the viewer to “search Honda on Yahoo!” or whatever, I really started to wonder: does searching online really make more sense to people than remembering or jotting down an easy URL?//

    Along the same lines, I’m always puzzled to hear a commercial inform me of the ‘keyword’ – seems a rather weird choice of wording for a general audience. I assume people would more readily understand ‘go to honda.com’ as opposed to ‘keyword is honda’ ,but maybe not?

  5. I do it, mostly for the same reasons Candy mentioned. Plus, with Firefox, the search box autofills, so it’s easy. I don’t think it has anything to do with knowledge of URL structure and more to do with what you find convenient.

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