Understanding the Top Media Trends in Search and Content

Last Updated Jan 11, 2010 2:07 PM EST

There probably is no greater point of convergence in the way people use media in our time than that between search and content.

Therefore, and taking advantage of the fact that this is still the Season of Lists, let's first consider what we know about the way people in the U.S. are using Google Search as 2010 dawns:

  • 70 percent of Google users in the U.S. make more than one query per day.
  • 14.3 percent of these users make more than 10 queries per day.
  • More than one-third Google queries, duplicates excluded, have never been seen before.
  • More than 20 percent of Google queries, duplicates included, have never been seen before.
  • Average amount of time it takes a user to finish entering a query: 9 seconds.
  • Average amount of time it takes Google to answer a query: Less than 1/4 second.
  • Number of search quality improvements made by Google in 2009: 540, ~1.5 each day.
  • Proportion of Google result pages that show a map in search results: 7.7 percent.
This kind of data serves a number of purposes, but what I find the most fascinating is the continued fragmentation of search queries -- that such a large proportion of search terms have never been seen before!
This statistic, more than any other, shows the limitless potential of search as a business model, a fact that did not elude Microsoft when it launched Bing in 2009.

Now, just for fun, here is the list of the most requested articles from the New Yorker, the premier magazine in the U.S., over the past decade:

  • Seymour M. Hersh's "Torture at Abu Ghraib," about the torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, published in the issue of May 10, 2004.
  • Laura Hillenbrand's "A Sudden Illness," about the writer's experience with chronic fatigue syndrome, published in the issue of July 7, 2003.
  • Elizabeth Kolbert's "Climate of Man," the first of a three-part series about the effects of global warming on the Arctic, published in the issue of April 25, 2005.
  • Calvin Trillin's "Alice, Off the Page," about the writer's recollections of his late wife, published in the issue of March 27, 2006.
  • Bernard Lewis's "The Revolt of Islam," about Islam's historic rivalry with the West, published in the issue of November 19, 2001.
  • Jerome Groopman's "A Knife in the Back," about treatments for chronic back pain, published in the issue of April 8, 2002.
  • David Grann's "City of Water," about New York City's antiquated water-tunnel system and the workers who build the tunnels, published in the issue of September 1, 2003.
  • Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's "Landing From the Sky," about an impoverished single mother's relationship with an abusive drug dealer in the Bronx, published in the issue of April 24 & May 1, 2000.
  • Malcolm Gladwell's "The Naked Face," about how facial-expression technology is utilized in law enforcement, published in the issue of August 5, 2002.
  • Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain," a short story about two cowboys who fall in love in 1963, published in the issue of October 13, 1997. While technically not published within this decade, this has been the magazine's top requested fiction piece of the past ten years.
The most requested issue of the magazine over past decade was the September 11th commemorative issue, published on September 24, 2001.

There is virtually no parallel between these two lists, of course, except that Google does a very good job of returning most of these articles on the first page of its search results -- as long as the query contains the precise title of the article. (It also helps to add the author's name.)

The New Yorker is, of course, a very serious magazine, so this list tells us little about the larger public's interest in celebrities and sports results and product releases, but it is an indication, perhaps, about what most matters when it comes to the topics that serious media companies could aspire to cover.

And if they cover it, Google will index it, so the audience will find it. Now all content producers need to figure out is how to monetize all that traffic. Sound familiar?

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.