free html hit counter Queries Getting Denser - John Battelle's Search Blog

Queries Getting Denser

By - February 03, 2004

Via DMNews, saw this study from OneStat (a web analytics company) on query trends. It basically said that folks are starting to use more words in their queries. Why? They’re not getting the results they want? They know more words will mean a better result? Little of both? Not much here on that piece of the story.

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7 thoughts on “Queries Getting Denser

  1. Andy Beal says:

    In our own client research, we’ve seen that search engine users often type one-word phrases but are frustrated by the results. They then realize they need to be specific and go back with 2 or 3 word phrases. I think this study shows that searchers are becoming smarter with their search requests from the outset.

  2. jkottke says:

    I looked over my dad’s shoulder as he used the web and Google over the holidays. Whereas I rarely use long queries (unless I’m narrowing previous result sets), he routinely used 4-8 word queries right off the bat and got not-so-great results. And then, instead of omitting some of the words from the previous search to increase the number of results, he often tried a completely different 4-8 word query.

  3. Otis says:

    Users getting smarter, search engines’ indices growing, more results to choose from, got to narrow it down – use more words.
    I wonder if users are using proper query syntax more these days, too. (+, -, site:, link:, quotes, etc.)

  4. Jeff Coyle says:

    Similar to Andy’s statements, of the millions of user query sessions a month I mine through, the frequency of longer (3+ term) phrases has significantly increased over the past year.

    I would also like to add that I believe this is both due to users becoming more detailed when searching and due to an increase in the willingness for a user to perform a search, then add an additional term or synonym to refine that same search. Unfortunately, I suspect that in some cases users expect to HAVE to fine tune their queries to find the best matches, I know I do. 🙂

    Additionally, It is quite often that I see a user perform an “exploratory” one or two term search, then follow up with a detailed 3+ term search or a categorical/directory browse. I rarely see boolean, +, or other items, but suspect that the use of these “Advanced” techiques is definitely increasing over at Google.

  5. gary p. says:

    Well, queries can’t to long at Google, they truncate all searches after 10 terms.

    Also, as reported on several sites, many of Google’s advanced operators have not been working properly for several months.


  6. gary price says:

    Oops, a bit quick on the post button.

    I forgot to mention that Google does NOT show all backlinks when running link: search. I wrote about this last week.

    Btw, another Google limiation that can be an issue is that they stop indexing pdf documents after 101kb.

  7. In my book Designing Web Usability I have some data from 1997: at the time the mean query length was 1.9 words. In pre-Web search systems, queries tended to be even shorter: mostly one-word queries when used by “average users” (that is, not librarians or professional users of databases like Lexis Nexis).

    So, from pre-Web to early Web, mean query length incrased by about half a word. From early Web to current Web another half word was added (slightly more, going from 1.9 to 2.6).

    Three possible explanations, in comparing these three different points in time:

    a) More and more info means that you need to specify what you are looking for in more and more detail to zero in on what you want.

    b) There are more and more questions that can be answered these days, compared to the more limited services in earlier days.

    c) Search is becoming ever-more central to the user experience, and so users gradually get more sophisticated. (Of course, this doesn’t mean that they can use Boolean queries correctly.)