How different age demographics search the internet

By UserTesting | May 4, 2023
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Search is how people find information, with 3.5 billion+ searches occurring daily on Google alone. According to Internet Live Stats, Google processes 40,000 search queries every second.

Despite this, surprisingly little information exists about how different age groups search the web. Surely, teenagers take a slightly different approach than seniors. Or is everyone searching in the same way?

What search queries are used by different age groups?

Even though organizations often target particular age groups, there’s not much information about how different age groups use search. While individual brands can combine demographic search data by cross-referencing Google Analytics with Google AdWords and Google Trends, there’s very little general data on how searching differs by demographic.

Despite this lack of information, we did a little digging to unearth some helpful information about how different age groups search online.

The length of search queries varies between generations

According to research conducted by Fractl, Gen Z uses substantially longer search queries than Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers. The average search query for Gen Z is 5 words long, while the average search for the other three groups is only 4.2 words long.

It’s hard to say precisely why this is, but it’s reasonable to assume that Gen Z is the most comfortable searching online, as they grew up in the era of search. They likely have more confidence in what a search engine will deliver, so they have gotten more precise in their queries.

“Best” and “How to” are often used by younger generations

Fractl also studied word choice in search queries, finding that 56% of Gen Zers used the word “best” in their queries compared to only 30% of Baby Boomers. Gen Z and Millenials were nearly neck and neck, with 50% of millennials using “best.”

Adding “how to” to a query yielded similar results, with 64% of Gen Zers using the term compared to only 42% of Baby Boomers.

Older generations have “lower global search performance”

According to The Age-related Differences in Web Information Search Process, a paper by researchers at UNC and SUNY Albany, older adults spend a long time on search tasks, take longer to complete searches, and obtain fewer accurate search results. They are less likely to formulate successful search terms and may need help reformulating their queries if their first query does not yield results. 

Additionally, their search strategy could be more dynamic and exhaustive. They’re more likely to take a knowledge-based approach where they read through results rather than spend time planning the search process.

The paper defines this as “lower global search performance” and notes that older generations are more susceptible to misinformation as a result. 

What search engines do different age groups use?

Search engines by age group: Google, Bing, and Yahoo!

Google is far and away the most popular search engine, followed by YouTube. But what platforms are different age groups using?

There’s not a lot of current information about search engine use among different age groups. Still, a 2015 study by digital marketing consultancy Further found that users aged between 18 and 44 were most likely to be using Google to search the web.

The study found that users aged between 45 and 64 were most likely to be using Bing, with usage being most common among the 55-64 age group, while for users aged 65+, Yahoo! was the most popular search engine.

Perhaps there’s not more information about particular search engines across demographics because of Google’s dominance and the rise of alternate options for finding information.

Search via social media across different age groups

Younger generations aren’t always using traditional search engines. According to Prabhakar Raghavan, a senior vice president at Google, nearly 40% of Gen Zers search using TikTok or Instagram.

According to HubSpot’s The State of U.S. Consumer Trends report, Gen Zers discover new products via social media, YouTube Ads, and search, with 33% having recently bought a product based on an influencer’s recommendation. 

Different generations use social media differently, as well. For example, Gen Z is more active on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, while Baby Boomers are most active on Facebook.

which social media platforms consumer use

Although social media platforms aren’t precisely search engines, they are used for search queries. In particular, social media seems helpful for product discovery, with 57% of  Gen Zers having discovered a new product via social media.


gen z product discover channels

Even so, Gen Z still relies on search to find products, with 50% saying they’ve found new products using a search engine. This generation also uses their mobile phones when searching, with 72% of their queries happening via mobile.

All to say, how younger generations find information online is changing.

Search queries by age group: two older studies worth reviewing

Although we like to surface the latest research, there were exciting studies-- one entitled “The Demographics of Web Search” in 2010 and one entitled ‘“Who Uses Web Search for What? And How”’ in 2011-- that’s worth sharing. The data is several years old, but the findings still hold up based on what we know about different age groups

For example, “The Demographics of Web Search” found that older people, defined in the study as people born before 1956, i.e., age 55+, were more likely to use URLs as search queries.

Some examples of search terms used by older searchers included “Yahoo free bridge games,” “” and “”

The youngest group of searchers, born after 1982, so aged 27 and under, were more likely to search for queries like “free teen chatrooms”, “tottaly layouts” and “photofiltre brushes”. (Ah, 2010. It was a simpler time).

Young people were also more likely to try and get things for free. The study noted that if a user started typing “frontpage” in a search, the keyword that most commonly followed it was “2003” (referring to the software Microsoft Frontpage 2003). But for young people, the most common follow-up keyword was “free.”

The 2011 study, “Who Uses Web Search for What? And How?” found that topic-wise, young people born between 1987 and 2006 were more likely to carry out music and gaming-related searches, while older users born between 1900 and 1948 were more likely to carry out searches related to finance and travel.

Interestingly, the study found that young people were more likely to click on a suggested search result if it was presented to them than were older searchers—perhaps indicating a higher level of trust in the technology.

Regarding search behavior, young people were also found to carry out more diverse search queries—searches for information or transactions—and older people were more likely to carry out focused search queries, such as navigating a website.

How do different age groups use voice search?

Finally, there are some interesting stats regarding the adoption of voice search among different age groups.

According to a survey conducted in 2019 by The Manifest, older adults are slightly more likely to use voice search than those in the younger demographic. About 64% of people 55+ reported using voice search, compared to 63% of those aged 34-55 and 47% of those ages 18-34. A survey by Path Interactive revealed similar findings, with 88% of those aged 65+ using voice search at least a few times per week. 

Although it’s now somewhat outdated, a Google survey of 1,400 U.S. smartphone users carried out in 2014 found that voice search usage was highest amongst teenagers (aged 13-18), with 55% of teens saying that they used voice search more than once daily. Adults had adopted it at a lower rate, but more than two-fifths (41%) of adults still reported using voice search multiple times daily.

Teenagers were more likely to use voice search with friends, with 57% being willing to use voice search in company, compared with only 24% of adults.

Teens were also more comfortable using voice search while watching TV than adults (59% versus 36%), while adults were more likely to use voice search while cooking (23% of adults versus 8% of teens – though maybe that’s just because they don’t know how to cook full stop).

Regarding what they wish they could accomplish with voice search, teens were most likely to wish that voice search could send them pizza – with 45% of teenagers wanting voice-activated pizza delivery, compared with 36% of adults.

But both age groups were tied in wishing that voice search could help them find the remote control: 34% of teenagers and 33% of adults wished that Siri had the power to help them find the remote.

Consider age when thinking through search

Although the studies are somewhat limited, it’s clear that generations use search differently.

Many of the findings align with what we might expect: young people are more confident with new technology like voice search and more likely to trust the search engine to guide them towards the right result. Older users tend to be a bit more cautious, submitting more specific queries or using search engines to take them to a specific URL.

With more research into this area, we could build up a more nuanced picture of search engine use amongst age groups and learn more about how age affects how people interact with search and the wider web.

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