document.f.q.focus(); The Billion Dollar Line of JavaScript

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  • September 12, 2007
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Have you ever stood behind a novice Internet user and watched how they browse the web and navigate through different sites? Most designers know that seeing their sites through the eyes of an average user is extremely good for spotting usability issues but most don’t spend the time to extend this research across other websites.

Watching how people use the most popular websites such as Google can be extremely revealing. A large number of users don’t understand the difference between a search engine and the Internet and are unaware of the difference between typing a url or search query in the address bar compared to the search box on Google.

People today are so used to using Google that for some the address bar has become obsolete. It is quicker to type “Amazon” into Google and click on the first result than it is to type into your address bar.

Google makes huge profits from these navigational searches by allowing advertisers to bid on the names of other websites. Sometimes a site can apply to stop other advertisers bidding on trademarked terms but, as American Airlines is finding out, Google doesn’t always allow this.


When you load up your browser with Google as your homepage the cursor will jump to the search box in Google as soon as the page finishes loading. This is thanks to a JavaScript snippet added by Google to stop people using the address bar and make them use the search box instead.

Novice users often don’t look at the position of the cursor and simply start typing a url into the search box and hit enter. Google will display the search results and normally the user will find the url they were looking for at the top and happily click on it.

This extra click is making Google billions of dollars every year with very few people even knowing it. In some url queries there may only be a few results but sometimes a sponsored listing appears first. Normally this is from the site the user was looking for as advertisers pay a premium to make sure they come up first for their own brand, sometimes a simple search for a site such as or (see screenshot below) can end up costing the advertiser $5 per visitor – purely down to JavaScript.

BT search

Example :

BT is a huge brand in the UK and attracts huge amount of traffic to its website, In fact the website is so popular that if you used Adwords to bid on the keyword “BT” you would be spending up to $22,000 per day according to the Google Adwords Traffic Estimator.

BT search volume
Looking at the chart above we can see that around 100 people per day are clicking on sponsored links after searching Google for the phrase

At an average cost of $5 per click this adds up to maybe $500 per day in revenue for Google just for this one search. Multiply across 365 days and taking a very conservative guess that this happens across 10,000 different domains gives over $1.8 billion in yearly revenue for Google.

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