Is The Way We Search the Web Generational?

Here’s a quick question for you: who’s the Internet’s target market?

Easy, right? The Internet’s for everyone.

Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to establish who that ‘everyone’ we’re referring to is.

For the sake of ease, we’re going to break down our demographics into three generational categories. While not a precise formula, this gives us a working generalization in understanding online behaviors.

This way we can better understand generational differences and how that affects the way each person uses the web.

Is The Way We Search the Web Generational

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers are the generation born between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s. The Boomers grew up in a period of unparalleled economic growth and opportunity. The post-World War 2 period offered a sense of security and prosperity that allowed those born in this period to consider a life beyond labor.

The attitude toward consumerism shifted greatly with this generation. No longer borne out of necessity, consumerism became a past-time, with the accumulation of goods taking on an aspirational quality.

Boomers were able to carve out a place in the world that reflected and supported their view on life. Having the freedom to carve out a greater sense of identity meant that Boomers started to expect that the greater society acknowledge and accommodate those generational changes.

This is reflected in wide-spread opposition to The Vietnam War,, and the feminist and civil rights struggles that took place throughout the United States and around the world.

Baby Boomers were the inventors of computing but came to the online world later in life. Because of this, there can be a larger learning curve in using the internet.

This leads to Boomers typically being late-adopters of technological developments.


Generation X

The optimism of the Boomers was shadowed by the rise of Generation X. Covering the time-frame of the mid-1960s through to the early 1980s, those born in this time came of age in a more anxious period.

Historically, families had typically been what we consider now to be traditional. Fathers worked while mothers raised the children. Grandparents or other extended family would be available to help. Family dominated the home.

The affluence available to the Boomers set them off on a new course of discovery. Suddenly traditional gender roles were rejected in favor of personal freedoms and liberties.

Generation XThe sexual revolution led to an increase in divorce rates. This resulted in the ‘latchkey kid‘ phenomenon. A greater percentage of Gen Xers found themselves home without supervision.

This increased isolation led to a more cynical outlook on the world. Gen Xers felt as if they opportunities of their parents weren’t available to them. It was as if the Boomers were keeping the world to themselves.

This led to the generalization of Generation X being slackers. The anxiety of their worldview created a sense of ennui that was entirely generational, foreign to those who came before them.

Widespread use of the internet was available to Gen Xers as early as high school. By the time they were in post-secondary education or entering the job market, expectations had started to rise in regards to digital literacy.


The ‘Connected Generation’, or Millenials, are defined by their familiarity with communications, digital technology, and media. They are the first generation born into a global village.

Roughly defined as having been born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s, Millenials have come of age during some of the greatest societal disruptions to take place.

Still suffering the recession of the late 2000s to early 2010s, Millenials have had to reconcile the juxtaposition of having unprecedented freedoms and opportunities with the realities of high-unemployment and long-term economic struggles.

The most digitally literate generation so far, Millenials have never really known a life disconnected from the internet, thanks to the rise and ubiquity of mobile computing.

Why Generational Understanding Matters

Let’s return to the question posited at the start of the article:

Who is the Internet’s target market?

While the shear size of the internet ensures that any and all niches will be serviced, many online marketers tend to focus on the behaviors of Millenials.

Why Generational Understanding MattersAs we’ll see, they are the most comfortable with disruptive technologies while embracing the most current ways of consuming content.

Why so much focus on the youngest of the three main generations using the web?

For marketers, it boils down to one simple concept: disposable income.

If you’re in the business of creating sales, your target is going to be those with the ability to spend.

Boomers are in retirement. While many have the opportunity to spend freely, most are more concerned but ensuring that they can afford what they need. Healthcare costs can often have far greater importance than consumer goods.

Generation X is in middle-age: priorities tend to focus on family and securing finances for retirement. Gen Xers can often find themselves responsible for not just their children, but in many cases their parents as well.

Thus, it’s the Millenials with the spending power. As they navigate university and enter the working world, they are still looking to get the most out of life. Many push back home buying and families so that they can maximize their experiences before ‘settling down.’

These generational divides offer online marketers an opportunity to target their message to the specific generations on a number of criteria.

Most obviously is targeting goods and services based on age.

Other opportunities reveal themselves when we start taking a look at how the different generations use the Internet. Their respective needs manifest in different surfing habits that present marketers an array of opportunities for focusing in on their respective generational targets.

Generational Use of the Internet

Digital literacy and comfort with computers came to the different generations at different stages in their lives. This has created different habits that can be generalized based on generational needs.

Let’s first look at how the different generations use the Internet.

Going Online

For Boomers, laptops and desktop computers are still the most common means of going online. These reflect computing as it was introduced to the world by Boomers and remains the most familiar way of using the web.

Boomers also lead in tablet usage. A Buzzstream survey has 40% of primary tablet use being by Boomers.

Gen Xers may be familiar with early, large home computers. As they entered university and the workforce advancements in technologies allowed for the downsizing of computers. Gen Xers may still have the idea of a desktop computer in the household available to all, but increasingly depend on laptops and mobile phones as their gateway to the net.

Millenials are all mobile all the time. The advent of the smart phone coincides with their coming of age. With the convenience of mobile computing, Millenials have little reason to look back at the larger, immobile boxed PCs that offer few other features than a smart phone.

What They’re Looking For

Despite all the differences between both their upbringings and the technologies they use, all three generations share common interests online.

While the content itself varies, not just across generational but also cultural lines, the type of sites remain the same.

What They're Looking ForThe Buzzstream survey mentioned earlier lists all three generations as sharing the same top three preferences for content:

  1. Blog Articles
  2. Images

Interestingly, the bottom five types of content are quite similar as well, with White Papers being the unanimous least-favorite. The other four are different rankings of Slide-shares, Webinars, and Quizzes (with the Boomers holding out a special distaste for Memes not reflected in the other generations.)

All three generations agree that 300 words tend to be the ideal article length. Boomers tend to prefer shorter articles while Gen Xers are inclined toward longer articles.

Where the real differences lie is in what they’re looking at.

Boomers have the highest interest in world issues and politics. Their interests tend to reflect global situations.

Millenials, on the other hand, have a far greater interest in technology. They also lead in searching entertainment-related news.

Gen Xers tend to split the difference, but do lead when it comes to searches relating to personal finances and well-being.

What They Contribute

One of the key attributes of the internet is its ability to grow off of contributions. Unlike traditional media, which pushes information out, the web can also pull information in.

All three generations favor Facebook as their primary social media platform. About 60% of each generation use the platform, with the Boomers in the lead, slightly ahead of Millennials.

Image and video sharing is high among all three generations, but the content varies by age group.

What They Contribute

Boomers tend to share more traditional material, such as content related to family and loved ones. Millenials, on the other hand, prefer topical memes and humorous pictures.

Gen Xers, as is their birthright, sit somewhere in the middle.

YouTube is the second most popular platform. However, only about 10% of users actually upload content here.

The other social media platforms start to fracture based on age. Boomers are the highest number of users of Google+, Gen Xers use Twitter the most after Facebook and YouTube, and Millenials spend more time on SnapChat and Tumblr.

What This Tells Us

These findings suggest some common-sense generalizations about what we know of each respective group:

Boomers tend to consider ‘legacy’; their interests extend beyond them to the greater world as a whole.

That Millenials focus more on technology reflects them searching out that which benefits them. As they’re of an age where they are entering adulthood, their interests tend to reflect their needs. In this case, those are the tools they’ll require to succeed.

Gen Xers reflect those reaching middle age. The issues they deal with reflect their anxieties over aging and retirement. That personal finance and health and well-being are their greatest interest, reflects their need for security and stability as they raise families and deal with the realities of home ownership.

That all three generations share the same social networks is only surprising if we don’t look at what they use it for. The type of content they provide and share is indicative of their generational concerns.

Boomers interest in family and global affairs is on display in their Facebook shares. Likewise, that Millenials are more interested in memes demonstrates their preoccupation with what is current.

The Importance Of Understanding Generational Differences On the Web

Why bother absorbing all this information?

What do we learn about the searching habits as split on generational lines?

Quite a bit, actually.

It’s clear that the generational cohort one belongs to influences their online behavior. The ease of which someone navigates the web as well as what type of content they consume reveals a wealth of information pertaining to generational usage.

By knowing what type of content people prefer and understanding why they’re drawn to the content helps creators and marketers better target their efforts.

Final Thoughts

The more we know about an audience, the better we can reach them. We can provide content that directly pertains to their interests.

Using what we know about the three generations profiled here — Boomers are more interested in world events presented in a more traditional manner; Gen Xers are looking for solutions on how to survive and thrive through adulthood; Millenials want to stay up-to-date on all the latest developments and want it presented in a current manner — we can arm ourselves with the terms and themes that interest them.

If you need to target Boomers, consider discussing things on a global or historical level. Gen Xers gravitate toward promises of security and growth. Work these into marketing efforts to increase views.

To reach Millenials it’s best to go where they are. Theirs is a different language than Boomers have.

It’s important to consider the whole of the differences when targeting a specific group. People have an incredible way of seeing through the veil if they think they’re being taken advantage of.

Use what we know of their differences as an advantage.

If you aren’t sure how to use this information to effectively execute your marketing strategy or if you just need some advice, drop us a line. We’re always here to answer your questions.

Owner and Chief Marketing Officer, Jason Hall, and his team specialize in creating brand awareness / traffic and lead generation / marketing funnel and conversion optimization, while utilizing the appropriate marketing channels available within your industry. With diverse clients throughout the world, Jason's team is well connected within many industries to assist with your marketing strategies. With no long term contracts and various levels of service, Jason's team will increase the quality of your online traffic, leads, and sales.

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About the author...

Located in the heart of the Emerald Coast - Destin, FL, founder and Chief Marketing Officer, Jason Hall, and his team specialize in creating brand awareness / traffic and lead generation / marketing funnel and conversion optimization / and PR campaigns, while utilizing the appropriate marketing channels available within your industry.

With diverse clients throughout the world, Jason's team is well connected within many industries to assist with your marketing strategies. With no long term contracts and various levels of service, Jason's team will increase the quality of your online traffic, leads, and sales.

Jason Hall

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