Google released its 2007 Zeitgeist list of most popular search terms. What is interesting about the list is how obvious the search terms are. Meaning, why would anyone enter these search terms, since in most cases the search term is itself the URL. Why not just type in the URL directly?
The answer is that search engines are the Start Page for the Internet. My guess is that most people have a search engine as their default home page on their browser.
There is another more subtle answer. Search engines are better at finding relevant content than the destination sites themselves. For example, if you were searching for a specific story on CNN or a specific topic on Wikipedia, would you go to that site and enter the search term on their internal search engine? Or would you just enter the term into your default web search engine? I have found that the major search engines are better at finding content than the destination sites themselves.
HitWise says that 70% of Wikipedia's traffic comes from Google searches. I know on this blog about 75% of the page views come from search engines, mostly Google.
Your regular traffic goes up when you advertise - Here is another odd fact about search engines. Search Engine Marketing people at many companies have told me that their organic search traffic goes up when they buy keyword advertising. They are perplexed as to why...and have considered reducing their advertising. I tell them to increase it. Here is why.
Free advertising - A large portion of people don't like to click on ads. I have observed many people searching for things. They will glance at the ads on the right side bar, see something they like, and re-enter it into the search bar, rather than click on the ad. Why? They trust the search engine more than the ad. It is deeper than that. They trust the search engine to give them more useful information than the advertisement.
People are frustrated with search? I hear this all the time from the lesser known search engine people. They believe they have the answer, and can deliver better results. The facts say otherwise. The reality is that people are quite skilled at entering search keywords and finding what they want. They are not frustrated...and search traffic is increasing every month.
Search is big business. Each 1% of search engine market share is worth $1 Billion. But, even 1% is incredibly difficult to achieve. Google's market share is at 64% in the US and has been growing every quarter. Yahoo has 22%, Live has 7% and Ask has 5%. That is 98% for the top 4 search engines. AOL has at least 1% so that leaves less than 1% for the other hundreds of search engines to fight over. Not very good odds for a startup.