Do 90% of People Not Use CTRL+F?

Diyang Tang

21

According to an article in The Atlantic floating around the internet, 90% of users don’t know how to use CTRL+F or Command+F to search a webpage. We were surprised at that percentage. Fortunately, Mozilla has TestPilot studies with open data, and we can see if Firefox users behave similarly. One relevant 7-day TestPilot study of about 69,000 Windows users focused on Firefox’s user interface. Along with seeing how users interacted with the navigation bar, their bookmarks, etc., the study looked at how often people used keyboard shortcuts.

What we found is that about 81% of TestPilot users didn’t use CTRL+F during the course of the study. While 81% is lower than the 90% in the article, TestPilot users are usually more technologically experienced than the general population, since they are largely Firefox Beta users. When we look at TestPilot users who consider themselves beginners, the percentage goes up to 85%. Therefore, our 81% figure does not belie the Atlantic piece.

In addition, those who use CTRL+F on average use keyboard shortcuts twice as much as those who don’t, even when we ignore those people who don’t use any keyboard shortcuts at all. This implies that people who use CTRL+F are more comfortable with keyboard shortcuts in general. The only keyboard shortcut the users who use CTRL+F lag behind in is Full Screen, or F11.

Feel free to take a look at the data yourself and let us know about any interesting trends you discover!

21 responses

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  1. Matthew Hunt wrote on ::

    Do your “Control-F” usage statistics include the use of forward-slash (/) to search the page content?

  2. Dextro wrote on ::

    What about the number of users who use the find option on the edit menu vs people who use the shortcut?

  3. Steve Chapel wrote on :

    The article isn’t about the Ctrl+F shortcut. The article is about the fact that most people don’t know how to find text on a web page. We would need to look at data for the Ctrl+F shortcut, the Edit|Find menu item, the slash keyboard shortcut, and F3 if we wanted to determine how many people use the text find feature. The data contains only the first two of the ways to find text on a page, not the last two. It looks like you looked only for Ctrl+F.

  4. Lozzy wrote on :

    My first impression was that of shock, but thinking about it, the statistic doesn’t seem so surprising. After all, it’s not such an easy technique to discover, and I couldn’t think of any ways of changing that.

    Looking at the menu item, all we see is ‘Find’. That doesn’t necessarily lend itself to easily comprehending the feature. I can imagine there must be some other factors in play which hinder discovery of the feature.

  5. Diyang Tang wrote on :

    In the Test Pilot study, less than 1% of users (around 600 out of around 69,000) used the option on the edit menu.

  6. Diyang Tang wrote on :

    The Atlantic article cites the statistic that

    90 percent of people in their studies don’t know how to use CTRL/Command + F to find a word in a document or web page!

    and that

    we need to teach people about this CTRL+F thing.

    We wanted to address the article’s point about CTRL+F. I agree that this study does not look at F3 or the forward-slash keyboard shortcut, and we will be sure to try and track that in future Test Pilot studies.

  7. Diyang Tang wrote on :

    Unfortunately, the Test Pilot study did not track the use of forward-slash. In light of that, we limited this analysis to just usage of the keyboard shortcut CTRL+F.

  8. Jens wrote on ::

    I usually use / instead of Ctrl-F. The advantage of Ctrl-F, of course, is that it works even when some text input element has focus.

  9. Funtom wrote on :

    There are two distinct groups of users, those that can touch and those that can’t. Using shortcuts, like Ctrl+F, as well as AwesomeBar and other typing-based activities, are mainly used by the former one, whereas the other click.
    It would be interesting to gauge typing speed in text fields and include it to the metrics data as a significant indicator of user type.

  10. Cal wrote on :

    Surely the Mozilla data is missing a rather important piece of information compared to the referenced article, namely how many people who were looking for something on a web page didn’t know how to do so? That’s what the original article was about, not how many people don’t use shortcuts in general.

  11. Karel Koubek wrote on :

    What about the users that have the option “Search for text when I start typing” selected? I do, and probably many others…

  12. Diyang Tang wrote on :

    Yes, due to the fact that this is a Test Pilot study and not a field study, we can’t tell when a user is trying to search for something on a web page. Therefore, our claim is that 81% of Test Pilot users didn’t use CTRL+F (and specifically CTRL+F, not shortcuts in general) during the course of the study. While we can’t read the minds of the Test Pilot users, we think that our 81% still does support the points of the referenced article.

  13. Tiago wrote on :

    I have search as you type turned on. I don’t even use / or whatever, let alone CTRL+F.

    I pity the fool who spends his day eye-scanning web pages!

  14. Dirk wrote on :

    I never use Ctrl+F, I always use the ‘/’ key to start searching :)

  15. Manuel Strehl wrote on ::

    I’d like to second Steve Chapel. The article describes people not being aware of _any_ search possibility inside an open page.

    So the interesting part would be how many users did use _none_ of all search options including the menu item.

  16. Danny Moules wrote on ::

    Hmm I’m on Aurora and use the keyboard so heavily I insist on always using mechanical keyboards…

    I didn’t know about the forward slash or F3 shortcuts. I can’t imagine why a typical release user would.

  17. Sander wrote on :

    I’m also using the “Search for text when I start typing” option.

  18. sherifffruitfly wrote on :

    ctrl-f is ubiquitous across a great many applications. If people aren’t using it in firefox, it seems likely they aren’t using it for ANY application.

  19. Bringo wrote on :

    what about the “Search for text when I start typing” feature, wasn’t this taken into account, I have it Enabled in every Firefox setup I use.

    I rarely use CTRL+F because of that.

  20. Mike Benza wrote on :

    What about users who have the option to search when you start typing turned on? It’s an accessibility option, but I’ve used it for years.

  21. Havvy wrote on :

    Cntl+F on Firefox has caused massive slowdowns whenever I tried it (back in 1.5-2.0 days) to the point that I avoid using it at all on Firefox. I *do* use it for Find and Find+Replace in text editors (kate, notepad++, gedit), but that’s about it…but that is also where I deal with most of my textual content.

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