Many, many computer users use "search" exclusively as their primary means of navigation. What I mean by this is that a user, let's call her Pam, wants to go to a particular web site that she knows of and is familiar with. Pamela knows the domain of the site. But instead of typing, say, example.com into the address bar of her browser, or even better, bookmarking the site so that she can go to it with a single click, Pamela types the domain into the search field of her Google toolbar, or into the search field of her Yahoo home page.
Pam is not navigating directly to the web site she wants. She is searching for that web site, even though she knows the exact domain. She searches, and the site appears at the top of the search results, and she clicks the link to go to the site. This happens all the time. I see the results in the logfiles, too -- the logfiles show me when someone has conducted a search for a domain and then clicked the domain in the search results to get there. Every time I see it, I shake my head in amazement.
This behavior is probably a symptom of "satisficing," a term coined to refer to something that may not be ideal, but works sufficiently well for a person that they're not willing to learn a better way. People are used to using that ubiquitous Google Toolbar for everything, or they perceive "the Internet" as being whatever they can get to through their Yahoo homepage. They are simply not aware of any other method of navigation.
Regardless of why this behavior occurs, it means that web site owners, who go to a lot of time and effort to promote their web sites, need to make darn sure that their site comes up at the #1 spot in a search for their domain.
I just signed on a new client this week, to do a complete redevelopment of an existing web site. The current site is so badly constructed that it does not come up #1 in Google in a search for the domain. It doesn't even turn up in the first 5 pages of Google in a search for the domain. The site is #1 in MSN and Yahoo -- but not in the first 5 pages of Google! This is a site that's been around for several years -- there's no aging delay or sandbox effect at work here. There aren't many guarantees in the world of search engines, but I will have this site turning up at #1 in Google in a search for the domain before long.
Another site I'm currently developing, a brand-new site, brand-new domain, registered for the first time 2 months ago and not yet fully indexed in any of the big 3 search engines, turns up #1 in all 3 search engines in a search for the domain. That is as it should be. There is no excuse for anything else.