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Chapter 4. Chapter Understanding the Onl... > Web-User Demographics: From Hardware...

Web-User Demographics: From Hardware and Software to Users

The underlying hardware and connections turn traditional store customers into Web customers. Once someone acquires the necessary hardware to go online, he or she joins a fast growing populace that makes up a strong demographic mix that is quite attractive to merchants on the Web. Several companies and universities conduct demographic research of online users. One major group is the Graphics, Visualization & Usability Center (GVU) at the Georgia Institute of Technology and its WWW User Surveys (www.cc.gatech.edu/gvu/user_surveys/survey-1998-10/).

Web-user demographics are exceedingly important to developers creating content and Webcasts, or in general trying to build audiences for their Web sites. When the need for market research about Web-user demographics began in 1994–95, several studies raised eyebrows because of their methodology. Researching Web-user demographics isn't an exact science. By far, the most cited and well received studies are those conducted by researchers at Georgia Tech and their colleagues at Vanderbilt University, Portland State University, and the University of Michigan Business School.

This self-selected Internet use and demographic survey (as opposed to a random phone poll) brings together a wealth of information about the current demographic state of the Web. The latest survey compiled thousands of statistics, including information about gender, political affiliation and registration, usage numbers, geographic location, access speeds, and more.

General Demographics

Web users still tend to be Caucasian, male, and slightly older, much wealthier, and more educated than the general public, although the gap between Web users and the general public is closing as more people get connected. According to the latest GVU study, 47 percent are married.

The average age of Internet users is just below 38 years old. Market researcher FIND/SVP, which used a random-digit dialing poll, reported in its 1997 American Internet User Survey that the average age as 36.5 years old while the GVU survey reported that its respondents had an average age of 37.6.

Additionally, the average age has been steadily increasing as the Internet expands. Since its fourth survey, the GVU study has seen a steady rise in average age. The GVU study also found that in Europe the average age was much younger (30.8), which reveals the growth in the U.S. of older Web users while technology adoption in Europe remains more focused on younger users.


Targeting young people may be useful for some stores. Jupiter Communications tracks the emerging children's Web market. According to Jupiter, as of 1996 about 4 million children between the ages of 2 and 17 were accessing online content. Jupiter expects that market to grow to more than 20 million by 2002 and reach almost $2 billion in revenue for developers. Forrester Research reported recently that nearly half of all people in the U.S. ages 16 to 22 have access to the Internet and that this group spends $37 billion annually and influences purchases totaling another $67 billion annually. These consumers are very apt to purchase online and aren't as be holden to brands as older consumers are. They will adopt "spontaneous trust" for a merchant or product that appears interesting (conversely this trust can erode just as quickly if the merchant or product is a disappointment). Forrester also reported that these Web-savvy consumers expect to be rewarded for providing key personal information, and that they want "deep and accurate information…available anywhere at any time."

In terms of the gender reports, there appears to be a 60/40 split between men and women on the Internet. The earlier and previously mentioned FIND/SVP study pegged it at 60/40 and the GVU percentage of female respondents to its survey was 33.6 percent. Female Internet use has been steadily rising over the last two years. However, European respondents continue to be overwhelmingly male despite a trend upward in female respondents in the tenth survey.

In terms of ethnicity, the GVU study reported that 87 percent of its respondents classified themselves as white/Caucasian. This has remained steady over the last few surveys. It should be noted that as other countries increasingly add Web users, this percentage of Caucasian users will shrink. The GVU study tends to be biased toward North American respondents. English was also cited as being the primary language spoken by 92.2 percent of respondents, which in the overall context of international Web growth is also a high number. Still, this does speak to the fact that despite international growth, English-speaking people are the dominant population on the Web. In some ways though, these numbers are so high that the percentage it really can only go down as the Web reaches beyond its initial population origins.

Educational Attainment

Educational attainment has been steady in most of the GVU studies. In the latest survey, nearly 60 percent of respondents had completed college or had an advanced degree. This is up from the previous surveys and seems to represent a broadening of the Internet's international user base. Respondents from Europe and other countries outside the U.S. have consistently had higher levels of educational attainment than U.S. respondents. This may be because early Internet adopters in Europe and other countries are disproportionately skewed toward upper-income households with college and graduate degrees. That itself seems due to the higher costs of computers and Internet access (local phone calls are still expensive in Europe and other countries) which are more affordable by those with better education and higher incomes.

Household Income

GVU pegs the average U.S. household income of Web users at $57,000. European respondents reported a lower average household income of $47,600. One finding was particularly interesting: people who classified themselves as expert Internet users were, as a group, earning much more than other Internet users ($62,800 for experts compared to $51,200 for novice users). This seems to support the assumption that many longtime Web users are highly educated technical people in high-paying jobs, while novice users tend to be from a much broader cross-section of households.

Based on these major statistics, Table 4.2 compares the major demographics to general U.S. population statistics.

Table 4.2. Comparing U.S Population with Major Web Demographics
CategoryGeneral U.S. DemographicsRelevant Internet Population Statistic (GVU Study)
Average AgeAll 34.6All 37.6
Male 33.5Male 37.5
Female 35.8Female 37.6
GenderMale 51%Male 66%
Female 49%Female 33%
Household Income$42,300$57,300
EducationCollege grads 23.6%College grads 59.3%
RaceWhite/caucasian 73%White/caucasian 87%


The primary occupations of Internet users tend to be computer-related or education-related. This is logical given the computer bent of the Internet, and the fact that many academic institutions offer free access to the Net and have been connected to it for quite some time. The GVU survey reported "Trained Professional" as a general occupation choice had now emerged as the leading occupation category in its survey.

However, the computer-related category is dwindling quickly. There is much statistical research and empirical evidence supporting the fact that while the Net is the domain of millions of computer-related workers, that number has peaked while people in other occupations stampede online. Occupation type tends to be divided noticeably between younger users who are involved in education and computers and older users who tend to work in other fields or be self-employed.

Special Web Statistics

There are also a number of statistics specific to the Web and its users that are worth studying.

Community Membership

How people relate to communities of interests is an important factor in Net use. The tenth GVU survey reported that 55.6 percent of U.S. respondents feel they have become more connected to people with similar interests than before. This was nearly equal for both sexes too. While men were more likely to form Web community relationships around hobbies and professions, women respondents had increased connections to communities that focused on family and support.


Many people who pursue communities of interest on the Internet also create on the Web. In the eighth GVU summary, there was data that supported this, reporting that 46 percent of all respondents have created a Web page. The percentage of respondents that creates Web pages of course increases with computer experience, from 19 percent among novices to 78 percent of experts. These numbers are significant when you consider that many merchants target Web pages with affiliate programs to increase store traffic and sales.

Years on the Internet

The number of years that a user has spent on the Internet is a significant demographic to understand. In the latest GVU summary, only 5.4 percent of users had been on the Web for less than six months, while 7.6 percent had been on for 6 to 12 months. The largest two categories were people who had been on the Web 1 to 3 years (34.6 percent) or 4 to 6 years (37.1 percent). With the aging of the Web, some 15.4 percent of respondents listed themselves as being on the Web (though in this case they probably meant the Internet in general) for more than seven years.

GVU also breaks user types into four categories: novice, intermediate, experienced, and expert users. In its latest study, roughly 18 percent of people categorized themselves as experts while nearly 40 percent categorized themselves as experienced users, 28.5 percent of respondents categorized themselves as intermediate level users, and 16 percent called themselves novices. Note that the GVU summary may have a slightly disproportionate number of users who are longtime or experienced users.

New users are more evenly split between men (51.5 percent) and women (48.5 percent) than the overall Web population. GVU says that 26.8 percent of women currently online have gone online in the past year, compared to 14.2 percent for males.

Overall, the strong growth of the Internet should continue to see many first-year users for some time. At the same time, it is already apparent that the population of experienced Internet users is growing. The new users will tend to come from lower-income households in the U.S. as Internet use broadens to new demographics, and from higher-income and educated international users who are just now getting online.

Access, World Breakdown, and Language

Where people log on and in what parts of the world they live are other important factors. In the tenth survey, GVU found that nearly 80 percent of users access the Web from home and nearly a third access it from work. Researchers reported this is a dramatic shift from earlier surveys when work access dominated. This indicates that the Internet has truly broadened into the home from even a year ago. This has been helped by the number of new computer households created by the availability of PCs priced below $1,000.

Only 28 percent of users in Europe reported having their primary access from home. In Europe and internationally, the lack of home-based use is clearly tied to high phone costs that people try to avoid by logging on from their company's computers or from universities.

European growth of the Internet is slower than in the United States. The telecommunications infrastructure being what it is in Europe, coupled with a lower household rate of quality PCs, means that overall usage, while experiencing significant growth, is still lagging. The same goes for much of the rest of the world which, with the exception of Australia and Japan, face more antiquated phone networks and low penetration of PC or Web appliance devices.

In 1997 IDG developed a Web index to "measure the intensity" of the development of Internet activity in Western Europe. At the time, research indicated that Web usage in Western Europe would go from around 10.9 million users in 1997 to around 27.5 million by 2000—significant, but not overwhelming. Another study, which pegged Germany as the leading online country in Europe (a result of the presence of the online service T-Online, with more than 1.4 million users), expects the combined home and business population of Internet users there to climb to more than 35 million by 2000. As you can see, predicting Web usage in various regions of the world is an inexact science.

As the Web has grown, there have been several studies of international usage. There is now data about which countries are sending out the most Internet traffic (useful for making decisions about translation of pages and where to focus international marketing efforts). Table 4.3 shows the top ten countries (besides the U.S.) producing traffic on the Web according to WebSideStory's StatMarket (www.statmarket.com) as of August 1999. WebSideStory tracks the traffic driven to over 100,000 independent sites on the Internet and tracks nearly 32,000,000 visits per day to those sites to produce various Internet statistics.

Table 4.3. Percentages of Verified International Web Traffic Produced by Top Countries.

To predict the number of users in many major countries, we turned to Nua Internet Surveys, a service that tracks the Internet research industry. Nua compiles the latest predictions on Internet population from every major research house to provide the latest reading on the world's Internet population. We applied a growth rate to these results to predict the Internet population of many major countries as of July 1999. Our results are shown in Table 4.4.

Table 4.4. Estimated Major Country Online Populations as of July '99 (+/-5%) in millions
Hong Kong1.33South Korea5.03
Czech Rep.0.34Poland1.09
Source: Digitalmill/DFC Intelligence Projections based on Nua Internet Surveys (www.nua.ie/surveys/) compiled data.

Even with a growing international presence, English is the primary language of users. Among GVU's European respondents, 32.5 percent reported English as their primary language. Beyond English, European languages that were high were German (16.3 percent), Dutch (10.6 percent) and French (6 percent); all other languages were less than 5 percent.

Global Reach (www.euromktg.com), a company specializing in Interna tional Web development and business consulting, keeps an updated projection of primary used languages on the Internet. Table 4.5 shows the top ten languages by percentage as projected by their statistics.

Table 4.5. Top Ten Primary Languages Spoken on the Web by Percentage
Source: Global Reach (www.euromktg.com/globstats/index.html)

[*] Brazil Is The Major Contributing Country Of Portuguese Speakers

Most Important Issues Facing the Internet

GVU asked its users what the biggest issues on the Net were. The top four were privacy, speed of the Internet, government regulation, and navigation. Among women, privacy was the most important issue. For men, privacy and regulation were the top two, with censorship a close third. This is important for store owners, who are at the center of the privacy issue. Censorship is a lesser issue unless you run Web boards and chat rooms.

Privacy seems to be the key issue of e-commerce security rather than site or credit card security (although lower on people's list, it was a measurable concern). People seem to equate protection of their privacy as an encompassing issue for site security. Anything you do to show concern about the information consumers supply to you as a merchant will make them less wary about providing that information and buying items from your store.

Poor navigation was also a major concern (ahead of e-commerce security) that merchants should be aware of and address. As we will soon explain, the ability for customers to browse, find a product, and compare it against other choices, is the critical success story of Internet shopping. This manifests itself on the Web as navigation. Poor organization of information and choices can actually hurt the sales ability of a site.

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