The demographics of web search: which groups search for what?

In a recent research paper, Weber and Castillo report:

How does the web search behavior of  "rich'' and "poor'' people differ? Do men and women tend to click on different results for the same query? What are some queries almost exclusively issued by African Americans? These are some of the questions we address in this study. Our research combines three data sources: the query log of a major US-based web search engine, profile information provided by 28 million of its users (birth year, gender and zip code), and US-census information including detailed demographic information aggregated at the level of ZIP code. Through this combination we can annotate each query with, e.g., the average per-capita income in the ZIP code it originated from….

Here are a few details:

What kind of web results would you personally want to see for the query "wagner"? Well, if you are a typical female US web user you probably have pages about the composer Richard Wagner in mind. However, if you are a male US web user you are more likely to be referring to a company called Wagner which produces paint sprayers. Similarly, the term most likely to complete the beginning "hal" is in general "lindsey," [an evangelist and Christian writer] whereas for people living in areas with an above average education level the most likely completion is "higdon." [an American writer and runner]

And what are the "most discriminating" search queries for various demographic groups?  Suddenly I felt awkward reading this piece.  Do note that the method of construction means the list will be dominated by demographically skewed neighborhoods, which need not be representative of the group as a whole.

Below the poverty line:

slaker [seems to be an informal misspelling of "slacker"]

kipasa [Spanish-language animation site]

I had never heard of any of those. 

If you have a BA, the most discriminating search query is

"spencer stuart executive search," followed by some other boring-sounding choices, such as "four seasons jackson hole."  To continue with some groups: 

Whites: [concerns tractors and motorsport]

central boiler wood furnace

firewood processors

midwest super cub


trey songs bio [should be "songz"]

def jam records address

s2s magazine

madinaonline [sells body oils]

There is more information on p.5 of the paper.  Can you guess which group is well-predicted by the search query "jingos para baby shower"?

For the pointer I thank David Curran.


Comments for this post are closed