Want to boost the economy? Just Google something.

Want to help stimulate the economy? You may not need to go any further than your web browser’s search box. Each query on an online search engine adds about 50 cents to the worldwide economy, according to a new research report from consultancy giant McKinsey & Company.

In fact, Internet search as a whole accounted for $780 million billion of the global economy in 2009 — that’s equal to the gross domestic product (GDP) of such countries as the Netherlands and Turkey, McKinsey said in a report entitled The Impact of Technologies: Search. In the US, search-related revenue accounted for 1.2 percent of the nation’s GDP (click on image to enlarge):

Search is big now, but it’s still growing

Looking at the study’s findings, it’s no wonder that Google continues to rake in big money, and that other tech giants such as Microsoft are working hard to become bigger in the search space. Fully 90 percent of online users currently use search engines — that accounts for 1.7 billion people, nearly a quarter of the entire world population.

And a good chunk of that search activity translates quite directly into money-making opportunities. Search engines drive about a quarter of the traffic that goes to mainstream web content creators, and knowledge workers in the enterprise spend on average five hours a week searching for content.

But there is still a lot of room for growth when it comes to revenue from search. For retailers in developed nations such as the US, online search accounted for just two percent of total annual revenues in 2009, either from direct online shopping or online research that led to an in-store purchase. So while search accounted for a healthy $67 billion in revenue for US retailers, the percentages show the online shopping industry still has a lot of potential to grow.

The web search war is on

Being a player in the super lucrative search industry is not exactly a walk in the park, and the difficulties of succeeding in the space is only set to increase with time. The McKinsey report reads:

“Participants in the search market—advertisers, portals, search engines, and those that provide search platforms—are in for a turbulent ride. The competition is fierce, and as technology change accelerates, incumbents will be constantly challenged and disruptive change will become the norm.”

That means that traditional web search engines like Google have no time to rest on their laurels, as the study found social networks are now pushing the search market away from purely algorithmic searches and to more people-influenced ones:

Overall, the study indicates that while the search industry is huge now, as more stuff is added to the web daily — thanks in large part to the user-generated content boom often referred to as Zuckerberg’s Law — there will be an even bigger need to be able to search through it. Anyone who can provide the best tools to do that stands to rake in massive amounts of money. But the companies gunning for those dollars will have to give their all to stay in the increasingly competitive web search game.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user Darren Hester.