Pornography: Searching for what?

This article was last updated on June 18, 2022

Trying to find out exactly what’s being searched for on the Internet isn’t as easy as consulting some comprehensive page of data. In digging up several lists of the so called top search terms, I realised that these lists have been "scrubbed" of any potentially offensive terms. What? Nobody’s looking for porn? Everybody is looking for the next hot trend, scvngr? – This term was listed as number one on a list of hot search terms today. "scvngr", apparently short for scavenger is a social location-based gaming platform for mobile phones. Hmmm, I am so out of touch; never heard of it: scvngr I mean, not porn. 🙂
Google: the best choice
Hitwise is an online service offering both data and analysis of Internet activity. According to their list of the top search engines, Google is number one with apparently 70% of all searches. Yes, that is all searches of all search engines. I come back to what I said earlier, using the "mother" of all search engines to not an incorrect choice for this study.

Google: Insights
Google Insights is a subset or the advanced features part of Google Trends, a service which permits the querying of search terms used in Google from 2004 onwards. This service targets people involved in marketing and analysis looking to understand what people are searching for and the trends in those searches.

No Top Ten List
Despite my efforts, I can find no comprehensive, unscrubbed list of the top search terms. While Insights permits me to query Google’s vast storehouse of data about search queries, there is no "give me the top 10 terms ever". However, by consulting various public lists and adding into the mix my own list of porno related keywords, I have been able to assemble a picture of what people are searching for in the world.

Insights: warnings

  • Remember in trying this out for yourself that Google’s data is constantly being updated. Consequently, even when I run a query just minutes after running it the first time, I sometimes get different results. Nevertheless, the global overall positioning of the terms remains somewhat stable.
  • Unfortunately, you can only search up to a maximum of 5 terms at any one time. To make a longer list, I just replace the last item on the list with the next item, jot down the number then repeat until I have all items.
  • I notice that the words "the" and "a" also appear in the Insight system but I don’t think they are relevant to this study.
  • Data has been normalized. I find this issue confusing while trying to reconcile their explanation with what I’m looking at on the graphs. Good luck.
Search #1: the highest rankings
To get started, I have a list of 8 keywords I put together after doing some experimenting. First I look at the period from 2004 to the present then the last 12 months.

1st search: period from 2004 to present (Oct 2010)

search termranking
free24
facebook23
youtube21
download20
yahoo15
google13
video12
hotmail11
msn9
gmail5
Note: The above numbers represent the average of the ranking for the item in question over the given period. You can only put in a maximum of 5 at a time so I replaced the last item with the others to make the complete list of 8.

2nd search: last 12 months (Oct 2009 – Oct 2010)

search termranking
free24
facebook83
youtube38
download22
yahoo17
google19
video13
hotmail11
msn8
gmail7
Note: The above numbers represent the average of the ranking for the item in question over the given period. 

The top search term right now seems to be Facebook. Yep, the word "facebook". And when I think about it, rather than typing in the URL for Facebook, I pretty much always type the word into Google and let Google give me the full URL.

The numbers represent the average of the data point over the period of time of the graph. I am using the default of "from 2004 to present". If you pick a different period, that average may end up being quite different. This would also be important to a study of what’s happening now since the search term "facebook" has literally took off like a rocket in the past 2 years. Its average over the last 12 months is as high as 84.

How did I discover the term "facebook"?
I consulted Yahoo’s Buzz, Today’s Top 20 Overall Searches; ClickZ list for April 2010, Hitwise’s Top Search Terms and Google’s Hot Trends. Since Insights can only do 5 keywords at a time, I had to experiment until I found which ones were the highest rankings. Other common terms like eBay or Craigslist may be well known but don’t necessarily rank very high overall.

A curiosity: News
While searching for the highest ranking terms, I happened across the BBC. I discovered that this acronym has the highest ranking of all acronyms related to media outlets. In other words, the BBC seems to be the most sought after news source in the world.

news search

search termranking
BBC63
Fox29
ABC14
CNN12
CBS5
NBC4
CBC3
CTV1
Note: You can only put in 5 terms at a time so I had to swap the lower end terms until I put together the whole list of 8 items. Remember to keep the BBC as the baseline. If not, the numbering completely changes according to the next baseline. (baseline = the highest ranking item)

Do keep the BBC in perspective. Look at the BBC compared to Facebook over the last 12 months. The term "facebook" is truly the number 1 search term.

N.B. The confusing part of these numbers is that they are relative. The BBC having a high number is high within the one query; it is not an "absolute" ranking. Since Facebook now seems to be the number one search term, I use it as my baseline when querying anything else. This gives me a relative ranking of anything else; compare it to number one to see where it stands in the grand scheme of things.

Search #2: Facebook and porn related terms
Once again, I am using Facebook as my baseline against which I compare everything else.

1st search: period from 2004 to present (Oct 2010)

search termranking
facebook23
sex12
porn9
porno6
xxx3
2nd search: last 12 months (Oct 2009 – Oct 2010)
search termranking
facebook83
sex12
porn12
porno8
xxx3
If I go back to the various lists of "top search terms", none of these porn related terms show up and as you can see, their raking is higher than many other terms like eBay, CraigsList, MSN, CNN. This is the proof that the published lists of search terms have indeed been scrubbed clean of anything offensive.

I have tested other porn related terms like fuck, cumshot and blowjob but these appear to be insignificant or of a lesser importance. I assume that the above terms being more generic are preferred when looking for sex related materials.

The details of Insights
Call up this query, facebook and 4 sex related terms over the last 12 months. Google gives us the interest of each term over time with a graph. Below, we find other interesting details about these terms. There is a section on regional interest giving us a geographical break-down. Note that you can select each of the 5 search terms to get a map explaining the degree of use in the world.

At the bottom you get a section called Top Searches which shows how the term is used. In other words, looking at the term "sex" shows me that it was used in queries like "free sex", "sex videos", etc.

What do the porno stats mean?
It seems that the top porn related search terms are "sex" and "porn". However, I compare them to the top terms.

period: last 12 months

search termranking
facebook83
youtube38
download22
yahoo17
google19
video13
sex12
porn12
hotmail11
msn8
porno8
gmail7
xxx3
Are these significant? Yes. Are they the most important? No.

Norton Online Family
This online service tracks computer usage in your home and reports back to a central system over the Internet. It is used by parents to monitor their children’s computer activity. It also blocks web sites as per the parents’ instructions.

Kids’ Top 100 Searches of 2009
Report findings are summarized as:

  • YouTube, Google, and Facebook top the list
  • Sex and Porn round out the top 5
  • Kids spend most of their time searching for music related topics (30%), then TV/movie related topics (12%).
  • The most popular celebrity kids searched for was Michael Jackson. Taylor Swift came in second.
  • Team Jacob won over Team Edward, with Taylor Lautner coming in at #80 and Robert Pattinson being nonexistent in the top 100.
  • Other top celebs on kids’ list of searches include Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Lil Wayne, Megan Fox, Eminem, Beyonce, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, Black Eyed Peas, Jonas Brothers, Rihanna, and Chris Brown.
  • Kids are searching for shopping sites like eBay, Walmart, Target, and Best Buy.
The report gives the complete list of the 100 most popular search terms and yes, sex is #4 and porn is #5. The report also breaks down it numbers by gender and by age group.

As I look over the report my impression is that the children are curious as anyone would be about sex. However I in no way feel that these children are inordinately or abnormally obsessive about it; their attention seems to be for the most part on things other than sex. I would certainly question just how much of a talk Mom and Dad may have had with their children about this topic. 

Conclusion
Are people looking for porn? Yes. Are people including children curious about sex? Yes indeed. However is the sky falling? I don’t think so. My research using Google Insights seems to correspond to the report from Norton Online Family. Even though the search terms "sex" and "porn" may be at a significant position on the list of all terms, this doesn’t account for the fact that the overwhelming majority of terms coupled with their collective count dwarf the querying about sex. 7 and 8 are big numbers and when added together they equal 15 but if I add up the rest of the numbers between 1 and 10, they equal 40.

I am sure that hidden in these statistics are problems waiting to be solved. However I would like to point out that every person who drinks is not an alcoholic and every person who places a bet is not a problem gambler. Let’s be careful about using 1 or 2 stories to justify a conclusion. If I may quote Marty Klein, Ph.D. (who got this elsewhere): The plural of anecdote is not data.

I would like to close by quoting from this article which is a little dated but still makes a good point.

How much of all Internet traffic is pornography? by Cecil Adams – October 7, 2005

Discounting "Google," "Yahoo," "Internet," and "download" as mere means to an end and "free" as too diffuse, we find that the principal destinations on the Web are music, travel, sex, games, and eBay. Proof of porn’s preeminence? My arse. If we consider "eBay" a stand-in for "treasured possessions" and chalk up the absence of "food" to the inability, so far, to digitize taste and smell, I’d say we’ve got an unremarkable list of life’s little pleasures, whether online or off.

Click HERE to read more from William Belle

References

my blog: Pornography: Statistics Laundering
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/10/pornography-statistics-laundering.html

my blog: Pornography: How much is there on the Internet?
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/11/pornography-how-much-is-there-on.html

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