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In my world, everyone I talk to has heard of search engine optimization (SEO). But I've always wondered: do regular people in the U.S. know what SEO is? With Google's new Consumer Surveys product, I can actually find out. I asked 1,576 people "Have you heard of 'search engine optimization'?"

It turns out only 1 in 5 people (20.4%) in the U.S. have heard of SEO! The survey also turned up an interesting gender difference: almost 25% of men have heard of SEO, but only about 16% of women have. Doing this sort of market research in the past would have been slow, hard, and expensive. Asking 1,500 people a simple question only costs about $150.

So what poll, question, or survey would you run? Try it out for yourself at: http://www.google.com/insights/consumersurveys/home
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84 comments
 
Do we get demographics with the info?
Do we get to know the earning level, job type, part of the country etc.?

Are the people answering verified/to be trusted?
What incentives (if any) do they have for answering, and answering honestly?
 
I'd guess that most of them are probably familiar with the concept of improving rankings in search engines, but maybe aren't familiar with the term "search engine optimization"?
 
I'd have guessed 1% of the general populace.
 
Almost certainly irrelevant, but both 25 and 16 are square numbers
 
When I speak with small business owners and use the term SEO most stare state at me with a blank expression.

The more surprising thing is when I say 'search engine optimization' I get the same blank stare almost as much.

For everything to go smoothly I have to say Google results or where you appear on Google.
 
Actually heard SEO mentioned in a TV ad yesterday relating to business people and acronyms etc. Of course, I can't for the life of me remember who the ad was for but .......
 
Interesting - but I guess this is in English for a U.S. audience only?
 
+Matt Cutts I'm a professor who does survey research all the time. I've been using Survey Monkey (it's a great tool), but this sounds great! Does this import into a statistics program like SPSS or SAS?

Glad you cut the goatee. Kentucky boys like us look more like rednecks with goatees. No offense to rednecks.
 
I'm not surprised most people don't know the term.
There are still plenty that don't really "do" the internet/websites.
Why would SEO be known to them?
 
Does that mean that the web isn't as important as we make it out to be?
 
I guessed right (notwithstanding the .4), but I'm somewhat surprised at the gender disparity. While there are more male techies, there are more women in communications and marketing.
 
My client told me not to quote for SEM. But we should quote for PPC advertising.
 
You say "only", but I think it's quite big. My guess was at 1%. It would be interesting to compare it to a question like "how many people know what a browser is"
 
Very smart Matt. Not only do you create a provocative piece of content-you also sell all of us on a new Google product. That's a 2-pointer.

At our shop we are finding business people especially at larger companies ALL know what SEO is but have no practical knowledge of how to do it.
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I'm a college professor and I study gender differences in computer-mediated communication. The gender difference doesn't surprise me in the least. Statistically, females tend to focus more on relational development and maintenance while males tend to "look for stuff." For example, Facebook, Pinterest and other social sites are frequented much more by females than males. Funny, I just submitted a paper at 2:30 this morning about something very similar.
 
+Sean Parsons +Steve Robinson if the US has a population of 311,591,917 (thank you Google for that answer as of Jul 2011) and of the 1,576 people that were surveyed only 20.4% of the know about SEO, then that might be even less than the 1% you guys guessed :)
 
Were there any validating questions to differentiate the people that truly knew what SEO was from the people that didn't want to appear stupid and said yes because they figured they could guess what it was from the name?
 
Very interesting Matt and thanks for answering my question regarding newTLDs on webmastercentral!
 
+Matt Cutts simple math: Illiteracy in the US is somewhere between 15% to 40% - wikipedia: "As in 2008, roughly 15% of the sample could function at the highest levels in all three categories. Roughly 40% were at either basic or below basic levels of proficiency in all three categories" - so lets subtract 25% from that "crowd" and say of all people who can read in the US have roughly 27% heard of SEO.
 
Perhaps some more SEO, link wheels, SPAM, article directories, purchased links, press releases, keywords stuffed into more web pages, hidden text, doorway pages and some yada yada yada would help improve those numbers.
 
+Nate Cerny Ha! I saw a tweet the other day by @jzb: If you're an SEO consultant, don't email me - I should be able to find you if I need your services.
 
Will this open to world wide users? Since I would like to know the difference between say, europe and american opinions
 
Yes, I'm impressed too by the number... I thought it was a lot less.
 
Matt,
sounds great!
Is it also available for Europe, e.g. the Netherlands.
 
to many changes in seo makes people confused..... always wonder why ? maybe $$$$$ for Google....
 
I believe the fact that this poll has been conducted by Google increases the percentage of people likely to know about SEO. If the research was done by traditional media or government level, perhaps the percent would be even lesser. So obviously still a mystery for many. Next research could be research on % aware of internet marketing.
 
I'd guess it's the same percent as people who have their own blog. If you have any sort of website, you are bound to get some SEO spam.
 
What kills me is this video has only been watched 300+ times. WOW! And this is +Matt Cutts himself quite literally advertising his company's new product offering. Very interesting. Google has been changing quite rapidly. Does Google have the capacity for rapid expansion and change? Hmmmmm.....
 
+Kenny Embry I see an option to export to CSV, so I think you could import the data into SPSS or SAS and start analyzing.
 
That's pretty much as far as the numbers will go. SEO will fade out in the next 5-10 years, as both black hat and white hat SEO techniques will become less and less effective with each algorithm update that Google and the other search engines are running. SEO will be synonymous with proper coding practices, but not as a service offered by a 3rd party company or SEO team as it is today.
 
I have a suspicion more people are liking to know the term "Ranking Number 1 in Google" than actual SEO. To be honest I think people are more likely too assume Facebook/Twitter mean social media as well.
 
Follow-up question: How many of those who have heard of SEO have a positive impression of it?
 
+Anthony D. Nelson those would be great questions too, e.g. "Do you have your own blog?" or "Are you on Twitter?" or "Are you on Facebook?"
 
SEO was mentioned in the last season of Dexter. A clever geeky intern introduced Dexter to a search engine alternative that "got rid of that SEO-stuff" – kind of ironic, really!
 
Much lower than I expected, given how critical it is to the internet. RE: Andrew Pociu. It's unlikely that SEO wil vanish altogether, but it is going to change. Hopefully, good website management and and good SEO will become much the same thing, but there will always be a need for technical expertise, and effective content writing.
 
If this huge percent of the population doesn’t know about SEO then many of us are marketing to the wrong crowd.Understandably, as specialists we mostly deal with service providers. We have made the assumption that our clients are doing there job and informing the end user about all aspects of their online marketing strategy. Doesn’t look like that’s happening.79.6% of the population has not even heard of SEO!!Fellow SEOers this is our time, let’s step out of the closet and bring SEO knowledge to the masses. Not to share secrets but to invoke curiosity.If the end user is informed about SEO they will be mentioning it to their service provider who in turn will be seeking SEO specialists.
 
This would be more informative if you'd included a control question: ask people if they've heard of some phrase that you made up for the purpose of the survey. Too many peoples' egos prevent them from answering "no" to any such question.
 
Who are these 1,576 people? I think it is a lot less if it's the general population of Internet users.
 
+Matt Cutts it would be great to see calibration against public opinion survey questions such as some of the most stable recent polls from pollingreport.com -- customers will want to know how well your sampling matches traditional pollsters'.
 
I guessed exactly right, well okay 20% not 20.4%... Ha! and I do PPC. (which is probably lower)
 
I'm actually a bit surprised it's that high.
 
20% is way too high, there's a lot of selection bias going on here I expect.
 
Hi Matt, this is really cool. I can't wait to learn more about it.
 
I have an even less scientific sample, its more like 1 in 10 in my world. I will give the survey a try. Thanks for posting.
 
I work in manufacturing. We make endmills. Endmills are very, very important tools that are used in the process of making just about everything at some point. Yet no-one knows what they are.

I feel the pain of having a job most people don't understand.
 
Excuse me, but these results are flawed. It's a poll about web with data gathered from people who surf the web. It's unavoidably biased toward people who are more tech savvy - of course the result would be as high as 20% (yes, this percent is a large one, not small). Try asking people in grocery shops, beaches and metro stations, the results would be quite different. I would bet on something like 1%. See various responses to an even simpler question, What is a Browser?
 
I talk to IT people frequently, and was surprised how many of them don't know what SEO is. They say talk to our web team
 
Haha, wait... is this people that went to a "Google Insights Survey" Page somewhere on the web, off a google page property, and of THOSE people it was as high as 20.4%?. I Know if I'm not in a metro-area hipster bar and I ask "hey everyone, who knows what SEO is?" There might be ONE guy in the back that has an idea...
Sampling bias, anyone?
 
very interesting perspectives in the comments. I feel that this survey should never be considered to be a "basis" but rather a peek into regular people. As people in the industry (guessing most of comments are from people who seo for a living) , we are more likely to come in contact with people who either are aware of seo or in need of seo, and may not know about it, but know they need it. There are way too many factors to consider this test reliable, but all things considered, it is an insight into a non-seo-marketing population. If the survey is way off, doesn't really matter, the fact remains that less than 50% saying yes, is itself an indicator that many of the variables we mention are not really in play. If they were, the results would be higher.
 
20% sounds way to high. I and several other commenters here guessed 1%. When I asked someone what is search engine optimisation, they thought it was when different people get different results (i.e. personalized search). I think it's mainly a poor question, but it doesn't make this new Google survey platform look good.

It's probably .4% of people know what SEO is, and 20% of people when presented with a dialogue box when trying to read an article click yes without reading the question.
 
I guess women have better things to do more than SEO.
 
They play more time in social media...But haven't follow you
 
Looks great. Can I ask, where and how does Google find and target its survey respondents? Is there a sample live survey somewhere?
 
Yea but you forgot the good parts: making lots of money regurgitating unverified facts from random blogs and oversimplifying facts anyone can read from the google webmaster docs without yielding any tangible results.
 
I am always suspect of these surveys with really small samples. How can 1500 people be a large enough sample to accurately represent the entire population of the U.S.? Statistically it might seem possible, but i think you need a much larger sample to make such generalizations. This is probably why 2 studies on the same question can vary so much (anecdotal), and why the margin of error is a thousand times greater than the percent of the population represented by the sample.

Beyond that, my kids and grandparents have never heard of SEO so the results must be true.
 
Sounds really high for the average American, must have been a sample of heavy internet users.
 
My price - $0, if i ask around my neighbourhood. :P

Anyway, a nice way to get a bunch of opinions for just 10 cent per question and person. Can't do that the normal way... and probably not cheaper to get some company stea... eh gather information on the internet for you (which is the 'traditional' way).

About the cheaper part...
1 person working 8 hours and getting an answer within 5 minutes each time while being paid 8 dollar each hour, generates 96 opinions each day costing 64 dollar that day -> 0,67 dollar (0,6666... actually).
So... 57 cent per opinion saved here... unless?! ...yeah! you had a customer base already and use something like... a website, forum, opinion box (made of paper/plastic/glass) found around the office/workplaces... depending what your company wants/needs.

But anyway... who cares (that was a free opinion as well!). xD
 
+Barry Schwartz this study would have cost $150 because it's $0.10 per response, but I got to ask the question for free as part of the beta testing.
 
+Ramiro Gómez I asked the question at night and answers were back in the morning. +John Saenz , these are people who arrive on e.g. newspaper pages, they're not coming directly from Google in most cases.
 
Ah-ha! Just as I suspect-oh, I see...
Hmmm that's pretty high, even then if it's online via these outlets...
Interesting.
Well played, Matt Cutts, well played...
:)

 
I too didn't know about SEO..until I started to work for a SEO Company...
 
+Matt Cutts What I think is the latest products and new features and changes in the search algorithms that google is showing that the value of SEO will no longer matter but I still think google will still continue to suprise us.
 
+Matt Cutts Talking about total disrupt! This is akin to what Google did with AdWords on the business marketing and development side. Love the concept.
 
Netizens across the globe will start learning about SEO when they found their sites not indexed in the SERP or indexed far behind. Whatever, AdWords is the right place for them to take first action.
 
Interesting stats Matt, thanks for sharing! Although, having tried to explain myself several times to colleagues as to what SEO is and what it involves, I can understand why the percentage being so low. And I'm in Estonia, which is nicknamed E-stonia for being such a big online community.
 
Interesting survey Matt makes me want to work harder :).

Thanks,

Baruch!
 
Looks very interesting. Is it available for UK users yet?
 
Judging by the blank looks I get when I tell friends and family that I do SEO I would say the number is more like 1 in 50 :P
 
I first heard of SEO in 2003 while I was working at legalzoom.com - glad I understood everything so early after some Googling!
 
I would bet that 50% of those people surved are probably selling SEO...
 
That means More Mens are SEO specialist than Female.
 
if youare just a regular internet user, you might not have heard of it. Also what age group is the survey?
 
Here is another point in case from within "our world". Our five years old son, Julius, only said this today ...

We were talking about a friend, who didn't have internet access. Says Julius: "And how does she earn a living???"
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