Google Learns From Search Failures

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September 28, 2010 – Ever get frustrated when trying to search for something on the Internet, only to eventually give up and go do something else? Behaviors like this are exactly what Google has been studying in the light of its new instant search features that rolled out earlier this month.

While the research actually pre-dates the Google Instant feature, it gives great insight into the changes that were necessary in the world of online searches, and is now being used to see just how well Google Instant has met those change goals.

Search company Conductor, recently published a study which analyzed the impact of Google Instant on search traffic. 10 high traffic websites from multiple genres were tracked and compared the week prior to and following Google Instant. What they found is that from over 880,000 visits, 3/4 of the traffic came from 3-words or less search terms with no significant increase in 4+ word long-tail keywords.

But what about search failure in general? Google’s study focused on the behaviors of Web searchers to determine what they do when faced with serious difficulties finding specific information. Small-group studies asked users to find the answers to questions such as, “Find the models’ names who fell on the runway due to the footwear they wore in a recent Prada fashion show.”

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Not all Internet users are as search-savvy as you may think.

Researchers watched as the users attempted various search terms and methods to discover the answers. What they found was that the more difficult the search task, the more time users spent on the search results page. They also tend to go back in and re-word their search query to sound more natural, even resorting to searching the entire question itself.

The second study watched a higher number of searchers (179 compared to the 23 in the first study) with similar slightly-obscure questions. This study found similar time increases on the search result pages and a tendency to start with small queries, then expand to a question-format search, and then narrow back down before giving up.

While Google’s research was conducted back in 2009 when Google Instant wasn’t even a whisper among the halls of the Internet, it seems to have provided a backbone for many of the features that were eventually implemented into the new search feature. Google, like any innovator on the Internet, knows the value of learning from failure, and continues to grow and improve upon search on the Internet.

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