Recently, when watching friends, family and customer use the internet, I’ve noticed a greater tendency for them to search for websites rather than navigating straight to the site by entering the URL into the address bar. It now seems safe to say that when given a web address, more often than not people will try to search for the address on Google. Those who have been using the internet for a long time might find this odd as using the address bar used to be the only way to navigate. As time has gone on, the internet has become mainstream and now many people who haven’t been forced to use the address bar or who haven’t been taught how to use a web browser at school don’t know how to use it properly.
Advertisers clearly have also realised this, occasionally using “Search Honda on Google” rather than giving the URL. Not using the address bar is clearly an advantage in this case, remembering one or two words related to a product or brand is far easier than remembering a long URL. Recently published stats from Google also place Facebook, Yahoo and Google itself amongst the top searches of 2011, confirming that searching rather than using the address bar is widespread.
In most cases it’s quite obvious what the domain could be, such as Facebook.com, but still search is preferred to using the address bar. It’s safe to assume that people want to be sure that they are going to the right address when they are unsure of the full URL of the site (whether the site uses .com .co.uk .net etc). Taking this into consideration, Searching for a site may be faster in some circumstances.
It might be also be that some users find searching for websites easier or may do it through habit. The majority of browsers these days include bookmark, history and web searching within the address bar, so you only have to type a word or two into your address bar to either search the web, your bookmarks or view sites you’ve been to previously. It’s easy to see how this would influence how people use the web as a whole, as searching for your favourite sites in this way would get you into a habit of searching for all of your websites. A Mac application called Alfred and Linux-based operating system Ubuntu also work in a similar way to these all in one address bars, allowing the user of the computer to type a couple of words into a text box to open application, search for files and complete many other functions.
Searching for sites rather than navigating to them directly is fine most of the time, however it can be an issue when a site needs to be hidden from search results but you still need a number of people to have access to it.
Users of the internet will always navigate the web the way that they find easiest. It’s not up to web designers or developers to tell them how they should use the internet, we should understand how they work and make it easy for them to find what they need to find. After all, if you make something difficult for someone to do, the likelihood is they won’t do it.