What’s the most searched-for term or word on the internet?
I want you to think about that, because it’s not what you think, and it shows that many people have a fundamental misunderstanding of how search engines, and the internet itself, work.
I want to make search work better for you, and that means finding what you’re looking for.
But before we get to that we need to understand what is, and is not a search engine. Based on what people are actually searching for, there’s a lot of confusion.
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The most searched-for term on the internet
What term pops up to the top of the list as the single most commonly searched-for term or word in Google?
Why would “facebook” be something people are searching for? I mean, everyone knows where to find Facebook, right?
Why use a search engine to search for something that you already know how to find?
In fact, the top three search terms are exactly the same kind of thing: “youtube”, to get to youtube.com, or perhaps the most ironic of all, searching for the word “Google” to get to google.com:
People are using search engines as if they were the internet. They’re using search engines as if they were the primary way to get around the internet. Enter a term like Facebook and click on a search result that takes you to where you were going.
It does no harm, it just adds an extra step when you’re trying to get somewhere.
However, it does illustrate what I believe is a very common confusion: the difference between the browser address bar and the search engine’s search field.
A confusion which, of course, most web browsers have been enabling.
Address bar versus search
The “address bar”, as its name implies, is where you type in an internet address (or “URL” in technical terms). Something like “askleo.com” would be appropriate, or “facebook.com” if you wanted to go directly to Facebook. In fact, the address bar will show you the full address of whatever page it is you’re currently looking at.
The “search field”, displayed on the Google home page, or the home page of any search engine like Bing or DuckDuckGo or others, is where you would type the words or terms that you want to search for across the internet. You might type in something like “Seattle weather” to find websites that have information about that topic.
So the short rule of thumb is actually pretty simple: if you know the address or URL of the page or site you want to view on the internet, type or paste that into the address bar and you’ll be taken directly there. If don’t know the specific page or site, then use search and type in the terms you’re looking for.
It was all simple, until browsers started to get helpful.
Browsers blur the line
I rarely visit google.com or any online search engine. Why? Because my web browser, like most, has an interesting way of treating what I type into the address bar:
- If what I enter is a URL – something that has, say, “facebook.com” in it – then the browser goes directly to that page on that website when I press return.
- If what I enter does not look like a URL – something like “Seattle weather” – then the browser automatically hands those words off to the search engine I have configured when I press return.
In other words, if the browser can’t figure out what I entered into the address bar, it will assume I want to perform a search for it. It’s a pretty handy feature, as I don’t have to visit a search engine site first to perform a search – I just do it in the address bar.
However it can lead to some confusion: for example if I type in “askleo” (one word) into the address bar Chrome offers to search for the word “askleo” using Google. And sure enough, the first result is askleo.com.
So it’s no surprise that people type in “facebook” into the address bar without bothering to finish with “.com” – hit enter, click on the top search result and they’re taken to Facebook.com. Even though they could have skipped that intermediate step2 by typing in the rest of the URL – the “.com”.
Why it matters
Most of the time it doesn’t. Yep, you’re “paying” for the search by having to visit the search engine results page and click the link, and that does take a little more time, but it’s pretty inconsequential.
But sometimes it does matter, because it blurs the line between searching the internet and navigating the internet.
- Searching means “show me pages that relate to this word or phrase”.
- Navigating means “take me here”.
For something as big and obvious as searching for “facebook” the difference, as I said, is inconsequential.
On the other hand, for less obvious terms the difference might matter. Search for the three word phrase “some random service” and you will not see somerandomservice.com among the results. If you’re used to assuming that the first result is always where you want to go when you type in the name of a website and not its URL, you won’t end up where you think. Not only can search results change, they can be misleading and occasionally flat out wrong – depending on your expectations.
The bottom line: you can get to Facebook by searching for it if you like, but it’s important that you know when you are searching and when you’re not.
And, yes, it’s more efficient to go directly to the website – facebook.com – than it is to just search for “facebook”, but as long as you understand the difference it shouldn’t matter much.