McKinsey & Company put out a lengthy and interesting report called "The Impact of Internet Technologies: Search," which explores the value of search.
According to the report, the average Internet user performed about 1,500 searches in 2010, with 1.6 trillion searches a year being conducted globally. I can only assume the number is on the rise, thanks to mobile usage taking off.
While the report is over 50 pages long, one part is particularly interesting. It finds that the gross annual value of search activity at the global level is comparable to the GDP of an entire country like the Netherlands or Turkey, and that this makes each individual search worth about 50 cents.
The report says: "The analysis showed that search activity had measurable impact approaching gross annual value of $780 billion in 2009, similar to the GDP of the Netherlands or Turkey,and making each single search worth around $0.50. It should be remembered that this is only a partial estimate of the gross value of search, limited as our research was in terms of the number of constituencies and sources of value analyzed. In addition, the speed at which the search environment grows makes it likely that this figure has already been surpassed."
"Not all of this value shows up in GDP—e.g., many consumer benefits, such as lower prices or the time consumers save, are not captured in these numbers," the report continues. "Some of these are likely to have an indirect impact on GDP. Some sources of value in education and healthcare that we did not quantify also boost GDP indirectly. The estimate of GDP impact should therefore be taken as conservative. It is nevertheless significant. The research showed gross value of $540 billion, or 69 percent of the measurable value, flowing through to GDP. This is roughly the nominal size of the global publishing industry in 20101 or Switzerland’s GDP in 2010."
I bet you never thought your searching habits were worth so much.