Why do so many use the Firefox/IE search bar to find websites?

Justin Pot March 10, 2011
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When not working at MUO I build WordPress sites for small businesses here in Colorado. The core of our package is teaching users how to best make use of the sites themselves, so there’s a two hour tutorial. It’s during these tutorials that I’ve noticed a very unusual, yet very common, behavior.

Lots of people like to type web addresses into the search bar in Firefox and Internet Explorer. Why?

I suppose perhaps people get sick of being told that no results could be found after typing the address incorrectly in the address bar, but why not simply search for things instead of typing an address?

And why do people get confused when typing “www.brandnewwebsite.com/wp-admin” doesn’t bring up any results in Google?

Can someone with more knowledge of human machine interaction tell me why people do this? I’m open to a number of theories.

An aside: I’m pretty sure Google knows this is going on. Their browser, Chrome, combined the address and search bars into one. The reason for this must be they know the staggering number of people who type addresses into the search bar.

  1. Wya Wanano
    March 22, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    In ancient times, before Google, when many had Yahoo! as their default, the exact same observation was made (re why users type in url's into search boxes). It's like YOU searching for a book: go to Amazon & there's just one box in which you put author, title, or anything. Go to another book search site, e.g. a library, & they'll probably have separate boxes for each of these fields leaving YOU in a confused mess. Can't computers search faster than I can decide into which category my search term belongs?!?! The home pages of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc) and gChrome have it right: a single box covers all cases. We have major problems if programmers can't code to recognise a url from "other stuff"; a url has a very well defined syntax. Also see Steve Krug's book on web & user experience design "Don't make me think".

  2. Agreton
    March 22, 2011 at 9:40 am

    I know that sometimes I type a url into the google search bar if I want to know about the site before I visit it.It has certainly saved my computer more than once when someone tries to phish, or the site is just malicious in nature. I can find out if a site is a scam, or if it tries to install malware, or even something as simple as I've been somewhere before, but not often enough to bookmark it and cannot remember the complete url. Most of the time, it's just to see weather a site is safe or not.

  3. Jim
    March 19, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Although I don't do it myself, I think it's a great way to avoid phishing scams... don't websites get paid more by the af networks when users go through search engines to get to their sites?

  4. pceasies
    March 16, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    As mentioned above, I believe most users don't know what the difference is.

    Plus they get discouraged when they try and do a search from the address bar and it yields an error (common in IE when there is no default search engine set -- normally through toolbars). This makes them go to the search bar where it always yields results.

  5. Xoandre Moats
    March 16, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    I have even heard radio commercials which tell people to "Google our website at http://www.ourwebsite.com"

    As a teacher's assistant and tech help in college, I saw so many people pull up Google just to type in the URL of the website so they could click on a link to the actual website.

    This is frustrating to those of us with the intellect to know that it is simpler to just type in the URL in the Address bar and go directly to the website.

    • jhpot
      March 16, 2011 at 7:12 pm

      Radio commercials are telling people to Google URLs? This situation is worse than I thought.

  6. Jessica Cam W.
    March 15, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    I feel like this might be due to sheer misunderstanding or unawareness of the differences between using the URL bar and the search bar, just like most regular folks don't know the differences between a web browser and a search engine.

    Mike says that users simply see the two bars as having the same functionalities, and I agree, but I want to add that users might also be unaware (or don't care to learn or nobody has told them they're not the same) when it's more appropriate to use the search bar since they look the same.

    I guess in their minds, the subtle difference only consumes a few seconds of their time if they end up not getting what they're looking for as they can always re-search or use the other bar. That setup probably works for them, and those few seconds are probably not enough reason for most folks to learn the differences.

  7. Tina
    March 12, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Sometimes, trying to understand people's twisted minds can be dangerous. Imagine you understood exactly why they did it, BUT could no longer remember what was wrong with it! ;) Just try to enlighten them. By the way, I see an article in this...

  8. Mike
    March 10, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    Honestly I see the complete opposite from the users I support.
    They would try typing in the (incorrect) URL into the address bar numerous times before trying to search for the site. I even get support calls because people mistyped it and assume their network or internet isn't working.

    My guess without disrespect is simple stupidity. People see two fields looking pretty much the same:
    one is the address bar, one is the search bar
    one probably has an address in it, the other most likely is empty

    With most people having Google as their homepage both boxes even have the same Favicon. So natural selection tells them to use the empty one to input another web address.

    As for Google Chrome it is something along these lines.

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