Recently I read an interesting study that suggested U.S. Internet usage is going to start a sharp decline over the next two to three years, as a result primarily of the economic downturn and some additional factors. All of which does not bode well for digitally based businesses or internet advertisers.
Consideration 1: Cost-Cutting
The first support point was simple: that with average Americans facing increased financial pressures, they are looking to cut costs -- and for the majority, the Internet is just not a necessity! For the average American covered in the study, issued by Hudson University on March 15, television and print, especially newspapers, are the primary sources for news and information. The Internet, though very ubiquitous and a "nice-to-have," is just not a primary media outlet for these users.
The data goes on to suggest that the mobile Web, though also an un-arguable convenience for most consumers, is not a necessity, and many average Americans are trimming their data plans along with their Internet access at home as they look to scrimp and save as a result of the downturn.
At a time when the unemployment rate is skyrocketing, many Americans are resorting to newspaper classifieds and their local YMCA for leads, rather than spending their hard-earned money on Internet access. Funnily enough, cable is not being affected by these cost-saving measures.
Consideration 2: Decreased Performance
The second point that supports this potential decline is that most Web users, according to this same study, are unhappy with page-load times and server errors. Data suggests that more than 76% of new Internet users are fed up with the poor experience offered by the Web, which may or may not be caused by the hardware they use to surf the Web -- or maybe a lack of savvy on their parts. Still, they are blaming the Web itself and they are not coming back.
In the same study, more than 16% of "active Internet users" found the same issues and were dramatically reducing their time spent and the number of sites they visit. One study quote: "While I enjoy surfing the Interwebs, I don't like waiting for it. I want it now, and I am sick and tired of that 404-message thing that keeps popping up."
These users were also more likely to submit their names, Social Security numbers and bank account information to the recently expanded Canadian and Irish lotteries. Most of these same users are still wondering when they will get their winnings.
Consideration 3: Unfamiliarity
The third, and possibly the most surprising reason, for the potential decline in U.S. Internet usage is that too many average Americans consider the Web to be "too darned techy."
In the same survey, a significant portion of Web users sampled agreed with the statement that the Web was "filled with stuff I ain't ever heard of."
According to the study, which goes into granular detail, most Web users were able to come to terms with companies named "Yahoo," and they were all a fan of the now-defunct "Excite," which apparently got them excited -- but they are simply confused by names such as "Digg" and "Google."
Also overheard in the study: consumers felt that a "Facebook" should actually have a book, and they cannot understand why they can't locate this book at the library. The solution here, according to the study, is to get back to basics. The Web needs to focus on simple names that are based on acronyms that do not require us to decode their meaning, but can simply be taken at face value. For example, most Americans do not know what NBC or CBS stand for, but they know what's on channel 6 and channel 10 at 8 p.m.
I know that reading this study may be disheartening to many of you, but know that today is April Fool's Day. Too many times of late I've found myself reading about the decline in the economy and other problems, so hopefully this column made you smile just a little bit. Next week it will be back to the thought-provoking topics you expect, but for today just take a minute and smile because things aren't all that bad -- especially with the Interwebs business.
Happy April Fool's.