Do Nigerians distrust Google?

Dammy Krane looking over shoulder

There’s something strange about the way Nigerians are using Google search. If you compare the number of Google searches coming from Nigeria, it’s disproportionately low compared to other African countries, relative to online population size.

Let me give you an example. According to Google trends, the most popular searches in any country are typically three things: the name of that country, the word ‘facebook’ and the word ‘news’. Nigeria has 59 million internet users, three times more than Kenya has. And yet, Kenya has double the amount of searches for a common search term like ‘facebook’. The same thing is visible when you look at the number of Nigerian searches for the word ‘news’. It’s only 90k on average per month, while South Africa has 165k searches with an internet population of 25 million. I would expect Nigeria’s search numbers to be much higher, considering their huge internet population.

Here are two graphs to make it even clearer:

Why is this? Do Nigerians find links and information in some other way? It’s not that they’re all using another search engine. Google is still the top search engine in Nigeria, Yahoo and Ask are both less popular.

I spoke to Damola, my colleague in Nigeria, about this anomaly and we came up with two theories to explain it:

Theory 1: Distrust of unknown links

It’s possible that Nigerian internet users are hesitant to click on a link if it isn’t endorsed by someone they know through social media, or if the link isn’t on a news website they trust. It could be a scam site. As a result, people browse the internet via links on Facebook, Twitter or through referral sites. They don’t start at a Google search, because they have no guarantee that the websites that come up in the search results are trustworthy or relevant to them. The effect of this unusual user behaviour is that some of Nigeria’s top sites operate like the web directories of the 90s. The continued popularity of Nairaland, basically a web 1.0 kind of forum, is an example of this.

Theory 2: Data costs of browsing through search

If petrol was really cheap, you wouldn’t worry about how much you drive around, you’d feel carefree about exploring places with your car. If petrol was expensive, you would think twice about getting in your car, unless you knew exactly where you’re going. In Nigeria, you can purchase social media data bundles that make it much cheaper to stay on social media rather than exploring the rest of the internet. “Mobile data is actually really expensive here so not necessarily frugal to search on the web when you can rather use Facebook or Twitter,” says Damola. So it’s likely that people in Nigeria prefer to scroll through social media and find content that way, instead of using Google search to browse around the web.

I assume that Google is aware of this phenomenon and that it bothers them. It looks like their Get Nigerian Business Online campaign was an attempt to rectify the problem by getting more local businesses to appear in search results. If Nigerians continue to sidestep the search box, Google will miss out on income gained from displaying ads to Africa’s most populous nation.

I’m interested to see how they’ll fix this.

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