A recent Twitter post by the Latinos in Social Media group mentioned “Latino” was used ten times more than “Hispanic” on the Internet.

That instinctively made sense, but we wanted to validate the findings independently. Our research came up with similar, yet somehow surprising conclusions.

The most preferred term on the Internet is indeed “Latino.” However, how popular it is depends on the search engine used to mine the data.

According to Google, as of October 8, 2009 there were 7 times more pages that used “Latino” than Hispanic, but for Yahoo and Bing the difference was closer to 3 to 1.

In Google, “Hispano” is also ahead of “Hispanic” 3 to 1. This is not the case for Yahoo and Bing where “Hispano” trails “Hispanic.”

Where things got interesting, however, is when we added the gender consideration.

While “Hispanic” is gender neutral, the “Latino” term is used both as “Latino” and “Latina.” The Latino/a combination blew all the other terms out of the water.

In Google there were 16 times more pages using Latino or Latina than Hispanic. Bing’s engine placed the usage at 8 times more, and for Yahoo it was 5 times more.

Interestingly, while in Yahoo the term Latino is more popular than Latina; in Google and Bing is the opposite: “Latina” is being used 30% more times than “Latino” in Google and twice as muc on Bing.

Blame it on Sotomayor: both Google and Bing index news items more heavily than Yahoo.

However, while this is interesting in terms of understanding usage of the terms, for marketers it’s not relevant.

What is truly important is what consumers prefer.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 36% of Hispanics prefer the term “Hispanic,” 21% prefer the term “Latino” and the rest have no preference. This means that 4 of every 5 consumers either prefer Hispanic, or don’t really care.

At the end of the day is less about terminology and more about respect. And this respect includes not only being aware of the opportunities in marketing to Hispanics, but also recognizing that the market is sophisticated, smart and with a strong appreciation of quality and value.