(623) 123-4567

Millennials vs. Gen Y, which is it?

Generational definitions vary by source


Generational research is prolific. Several years ago, I remember hearing stats about Boomers enjoying experiential vacations, purchasing Harleys at an astronomical rate, and thinking of themselves as 5, 10, or even 20 years younger than they really are.

Lately, however, it seems like I’ve seen more and more about Millennials — their growing purchasing power, advice for hiring and managing Millennial workers, or tips on how to market effectively to this group. Millennial-focused content has become ubiquitous in my newsfeeds and emails.

Am I hallucinating or is this really a content trend?

Looking at Google Trends shows that I’m not hallucinating. From 2006-2008, the #1 generation searched for was “baby boomer”. Then, Gen X took the lead from 2009-2014.

Now, the search term “millennial” rivals that of Gen X.

Content Trend

But, wait, aren’t Millennials also called Gen Y?

Which one is the true name? It seems like popular opinion (aka Google search) is deciding in real-time that Millennials is the name for this group. In the U.S., “millennial” is the rising search term while Gen Y is slowly losing steam (other than an odd spike in late 2013, driven by a Chicago Tribune article, What Gen Y doesn’t get about Open Enrollment).


In fact, Wikipedia even redirects the Generation Y page to Millennials. The general public is clearly being directed towards one term over the other.

Aha Moment #1: Millennial, not Gen Y, is the term du jour.

Content Supply and Demand

So at this point, we’ve found that people search most often for “gen X” information but searches for “millennial” information is growing rapidly.

But what’s available for them to find? What’s the supply of information?

Heading over to the search engines to see, I find that Google and Bing are quite different in their supply. In both cases, the supply of content leans towards Millennials vs. Gen Y, but there’s a significant difference in which generations have more content available.

Content Supply

The supply of information via Google search increases as the age of the generation increases. This makes sense to me because people have been writing about Baby Boomers for longer than some Millennials have been alive. Whereas, in Bing it shows Millennial content far outweighs that of the other groups.

In all cases, Bing has many more results than Google. Why is this? I went searching for an answer and it seems that really it’s all about the algorithms, the secret sauce in their offerings that cannot be disclosed.

Which search engine do you prefer?
There’s a tool called Bing It On that’s like a Coke-Pepsi taste tester for Bing and Google. Supposedly, Bing usually wins out — but for me, Google won each battle. I find the results to be more relevant and more visually organized for my tastes. Test it yourself. Which search provider’s results did you prefer?

Back to the demand of information.

So now we know there is plenty of information supply. I mean 555,000 links will take me at least a few hours to sift through. But what does knowing this help us do?

Hypothetically, let’s say I have a proprietary research panel of all Millennials. These Millennials have opted into to take surveys, do web interviews, focus groups, or test products. I need to get in front of businesses or people who are interested in Millennial research in order to sell my services and provide my panelists the experience they opted in for.

Part of my marketing budget might need to be search keyword advertising. To understand if this is feasible within my tiny marketing budget, I want to know how much it would cost to have my website advertised in the search results (since it’s unlikely I’ll be seen among 550,000 other links without some help).

To see how much this might cost, I used Google Adwords keyword planner tool.

The tool breaks out monthly searches, competition, and a suggested cost per click bid for a search ad.

Google Adwords

The chart shows that people are searching for Millennial information at a lesser rate than they are for Gen X information (this is consistent with the first chart shown in this article).

The competition for ads among these keywords is low — meaning there aren’t many other people trying to buy clicks on these keywords. Of the generational keywords, Millennial’s cost per click, at $3.96, is higher than the others by about a buck a click.

(To put the suggested bid into perspective, “market research” is a highly competitive keyword, garnering $8.92 per click to get to a niche audience of 9,900 monthly searches. Now, $3-4 seems cheap, doesn’t it?)

What now?

  • Use this process as an example of how to do your own research into keywords and search trends relevant to your business. (Or contact me for help.)
  • When writing about the generational groups lean towards using Millennial over Gen Y (or use both) in order to make sure your content is picked up by the search engines.
  • If you are looking to reach people in the U.S. searching for information on one of these generations, now you have some information you may be able to use to determine if buying keyword search ads is cost effective for your budget.
    • You can also target specific DMAs when you buy keyword advertising. Before you do, add the location in Google’s Keyword Planner to see how traffic and CPC suggestions may vary.
    • Just remember — you are paying for clicks on your ad. Your ad will be viewed by many more people than just those who click (click through rates can average around 2%.) Clicks don’t guarantee conversions/purchases/leads, but can drive traffic to your site and general awareness.


How Millennial are you?Take Pew Research’s quiz to find out how you score. A true Millennial should score above 73. I live in a comfortable spot between Gen X and Millennial.
Pew’s quiz: How Millennial Are You?

What exactly is a Millennial?

Great question. And one that does not have a clear answer.

Only recently has a name for this generation become clear, but the actual birth years that define this generation are still written in pencil.

Each source I’ve come across has a slightly different idea. The earliest of birth years I’ve seen is 1977. The later birth years some do not define.

But, to trace the ownership of the term “Millennial” back to its source, leads us to Neil Howe and William Strauss who coined the term and wrote the book on Millennials. They define the generation as people born between 1982 and 2004. This would make them 10-32 years old today. Wow, that’s a wide swath.

Here’s a great infographic from CNN showing the defining moments and celebrities of the generations: American generations through the years

Aha Moment #2: There are varying and widely different definitions for the generations, especially Millennials.

What does this mean to you?

  • When using stats about the generations, be sure you know the source definition. Some definitions span 22 years, some span 10. When mixing sources this can give you contradictory or confusing information. Choose your sources and your definitions thoughtfully.
    • I’ve started a table to use as a guide as to how definitions vary by source. This is not all-inclusive; any and every study on generations may vary their age breaks.
  • If conducting your own research on generational groups, be sure your project team and end-users understand the definitions you’re using. You don’t want to study Millennials using one definition and then learn later that your end-users do not agree and reject the data.