US residents who prefer Google's search engine tend to be richer and have more Internet experience than those who primarily use competing search services from Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL, a new study has found.

The longer people have been using the Internet, the more likely it is that Google will be their search engine of choice, according to a survey of 1,000 US Internet users conducted by investment banking and research firm SG Cowen.

Moreover, people whose primary search engine is Google are more likely to have household incomes above $60,000 than people who use competing search engines, according to the survey.

Google's grip grows

Google also emerged as the search engine of choice, with 52 per cent of respondents choosing it as their primary engine for general Web searches. Yahoo came in second with 22 per cent, while Microsoft's MSN and AOL tied for third place with 9 per cent. Ask Jeeves rounded out the top five with 5 per cent. (Google powers AOL's general Web searches.)

If Google users are wealthier and savvier online, and if Google is the search engine of choice for more than half of US Internet users, then these survey results reinforce the notion among many businesses that it is critical for them to appear in Google search results or Google search ads or both, more so than in competing search engines.

Yippee for Yahoo!

It should be noted that studies such as this one sketch general patterns and all major search engines draw varying but significant amounts of experienced and savvy users to their services. For example, Kurt Norris, who lives in Pace, Florida, and works in local government, has been using search engines for about seven years and is a devout fan of Yahoo Search because he finds that it is the most user-friendly service.

Yahoo's is in fact the only search engine he uses for all his search activities, he said. Norris is an active user, tapping Yahoo Search on a daily basis both at work and at home, and doesn't limit his activities to general Web search. He also queries Yahoo's blog, news, and white pages search services, he said.

Paid search the new revenue chance

SG Cowen also projects that paid search, the type of online advertising driving most of Google's revenue, will progressively tower over all other forms of online advertising in the coming years. The firm estimates that US advertisers will spend $6.1 billion in paid search this year, and $6.4 billion in all other forms of online ads, such as branded/display ads and classified listings.

But starting in 2006, paid search will account for over half of all spending, and increase its lead every year. In 2010, companies will spend $17.3 billion in paid search and $12.4 billion in the other online ad categories, according to SG Cowen. The firm predicts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for paid search spending of 23 per cent between 2005 and 2010, and a CAGR of 14 per cent for the other online ad formats.

In another report issued Monday, investment banking and research firm Piper Jaffray predicted that global online advertising will exceed $55 billion in 2010, a 27 per cent CAGR from 2005 levels, and warns that this "will likely prove to be a conservative scenario."