While it's an accepted practice to use search engines to conduct research on potential purchases, school projects and health issues, what exactly are we hoping to find when we type the word "love" into the search box, and what can we learn about ourselves from the way that we search?
First, it's clear that we don't just search for "love," we Google "love." Over 70% of all U.S. searches on the term occur on Google, compared to 62% overall for regular search terms. What's even more striking than Google's dominance is the degree to which the search giant influences what we click on. Eight of the top 10 sites visited after searching "love" matched the top natural listings on Google.com.
The top two sites visited after "love" searches are for love-related MySpace layout pages and images. Apparently, a "pimped-out" love-themed MySpace profile may hold the key to finding romance. As visits to traditional online dating sites continue to decline (down more than 15% last year), it's apparent that in 2007 if you want to be successful at love you may want to consider building a social network profile.
The next most popular site visited is Wikipedia, which tells us that some searchers are interested in the biology, psychology and philosophy of love as written in a communally agreed-upon encyclopedic tone. Fourth in love is the mysterious lovecalculator.com. The site, which claims to be designed by Dr. Love himself, estimates your chances for a successful match based on you and your mate's name. After nearly 10 years of marriage, my wife and I scored an impressive 87% chance of success, so obviously it's scientifically accurate.
In previous years, searches for love poems and quotes increased more than 250% during the week of Valentine's Day. It's no surprise to find Lovingyou.com, a love poem and romantic advice site, is one of the most clicked-on Google results. When searching on "love poems" you can find countless collections of classic love poems or even writers who offer customized romantic prose for a fee.
Perhaps, though, love is just too broad a term to provide true search engine satisfaction. Or perhaps it's not really love we want after all. How else to explain one of the fastest rising search terms this season, a single word that surged 42% in the two weeks leading up to Valentine's Day. That's right: Viagra.
Bill Tancer is general manager of global research at Hitwise