Survey: Net surfing a dying sport

A web use survey company says a new study suggests internet users are spending less time meandering about the web and getting better at going directly where they want.

          When it comes to internet navigation internet users are apparently done with surfing. According to a new survey, a majority of users now go directly where they want to go by typing in URLs and using bookmarks, rather than hopping from web link to web link.

          "Meandering is decreasing. This is a sign that the market is maturing," says Geoff Johnston, head of product management for the StatMarket division of WebSideStory, which released the report last week.

          According to StatMarket, over 64% of net users surveyed arrive at sites through direct navigation, compared to 53% a year ago. Although the uptick in direct navigation shows that users increasingly know where they want to go, that does not mean that search engine use is down, however.

          In fact, Johnston says the proportion of users arriving at a site via a search engine has increased to 13% from 8% last year.

          While search engine referrals are growing, it's link-to-link navigation that is decreasing, Johnston says.

          "People are treating the web like a library and going to the card catalogue rather than searching through all the books," he says.

          While the internet's cornucopia of information may have left net users starry-eyed in the early days, users are now determined to get down to business rather than browse. This means that more than ever website owners will have to attract traffic by providing valuable content because users cannot be tricked into visiting their sites, Johnston says.

          Not only is search engine use growing, people are getting better at using them, says Matthew Berk, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research.

          In fact, many net users initially find sites through search engines and then bookmark them, or type in the URLs (uniform resource locators), which may account for the increase in direct navigation, Berk says.

          Johnston agrees, comparing the internet to TV. "After a while you get tired of flipping through the channels and just turn to the programmes you like," he says.

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