I have joked many times that as a writer I can do anything and excuse it as research. That is in part true but it hurts me when I use it to fritter away valuable time.
With any writing, research can make it better. When I'm writing fiction, details can make it more real to the reader. That has led to some out of left field searches on Google. I remember working on a scene where penetentiary inmates were having a discussion over supper and I realized I had no idea what American prisoners eat at their meals. Yes you can find stuff like that out on Google. I think the references to the food here and there in the conversation gave it a more realistic feel. The best fiction isn't going to seem like fiction to your reader. I mention that example because it's tame enough not to upset most people who read this. I will research whatever I think I need to, to make my writing work.
That being said, research can go off the rails. I've been researching and started out fine but went from interesting point to interesting point until I was way off topic just spinning my wheels accomplishing nothing. Research is great as long as you don't lose focus on what you're trying to accomplish.
Aimless wandering online or off can be called research in the sense that you might just stumble across something that might help somewhere in your writing. That is really just an excuse to fritter away a lot of time. I'm not saying that behaviour never has any value, it just might be better to find another term for it – maybe experience or entertainment would fit better. Watching a Youtube video review of helium infused beer was definitely entertaining but I really doubt I'll ever use that “research” in one of my novels.
For me the clearest way to differentiate real research from the other kind is ask myself if my research has an end goal. No identifiable goal and it ain't really research.