No, this is not about a failure rate while using Google. This is about a failure rate to even find Google. Jakob Nielsen has published a startling statistic:

If you thought it’s easy to get to Google, think again. In our current round of usability research, only 76% of users who expressed a desire to run a Google search were successful. In other words, 1/4 of users who wanted to use Google couldn’t do so. (Instead, they either completely failed to get to any search engine or ended up running their query on a different search engine — usually whatever type-in field happened to be at hand.)

This study was aimed at above-average Internet users. Of four above-average Internet users, one would be stumped as to how to run a Google search.

Now, let’s review as we try to catch our collective breath.

Users are weird. I’m one of them, so I can say this. I’m sure I do things that would make a Web designer apoplectic or dyspeptic. But this statistic has me really scratching my head. And that’s Jakob’s point. Web designers, planners, executives, and technologists have so much more knowledge of their products and online in general that they are incapable of bridging the gap in their minds, and need to interact with users to see firsthand what their users are like.

However, there may be something else going on here. As Kleenex, Jacuzzi, Frisbee, Band-Aid, and Scotch Tape have learned, there is a class of words that become eponyms (or, in the parlance, proprietary eponyms). These terms have non-specific meaning, and Google may be one of these for advanced Internet users. Therefore, people may “Google” in the eponymous sense, and still use another search engine. As users, they are functioning just fine.

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


2 Thoughts on "1 in 4 Users Can’t Google"

That’s actually a very sound analysis of the situation I think. I refuse to believe that the quarter of advanced internet users “can’t” find/use google.

I presume that this study was aimed at North American internet users?

I think what this may actually be saying is “1 in 4 users can’t use the browser’s address bar”. I recently attended a pre-conference workshop at a hotel, and the next day assumed that the conference was at the same hotel. The concierge informed me that it wasn’t, and someone else had just asked him the same question. He was standing in front of a computer so I said, “why don’t you Google it, and then we’ll both know”. He popped open a browser window, and it came up with the MSN search page. The concierge typed “Google” into the MSN search, then used Google to find the conference.

I know many people who consider themselves to be fairly competent computer users, but would be completely lost if I deleted the shortcuts from their desktop. Similarly, I suspect that many users have Google on their browser toolbar, or set as their homepage. I have also noticed that a substantial percentage of those people, when asked to go to “” will type the URL into Google, not the browser’s address bar.

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