Understanding User Goals in Web Search

Daniel E Ross and Danny Levinson (of Yahoo!) recently created a whitepaper titled Understanding User Goals in Web Search, which aimed to figure out "why are people searching?"

The underlying relevance-ranking algorithms that determine which results are presented to a user might differ depending on the search goal. For example, queries that express a need for advice might rely more on usage- or connectivity-based relevance factors, while those involving open-ended research might weight traditional information retrieval measures (such as term frequency) more highly.

They broke the searches down into three broad groups (and subgroups of these groups).

  • Resource - be entertained or interacting. not just finding info on the page - free online video games, pornography

  • Informational - read or learn something - lists, advice, locate
  • Navigational - going to a single topical hub - Amazon, Ebay

These findings came from 3 sets of approximately 500 AltaVista searches each.
The study found a few interesting things about web search:

  • Nearly 40% of searches in each of their search sessions were non informational.

  • A large percent of informational searches were aiming to locate a product or service vice find information about it.
  • "Just over 35% of all queries appear to have the kind of general research goals (questions, undirected requests for information, and advice-seeking) for what traditional information retrieval systems were designed."
  • Navigational searches were much less common than expected (~13% of total search. Incidentally 62% of searches were informational and 25% were for resources.

They stated the lack of distribution of AltaVista and its reputation for having powerful search capabilities might have thrown their research off and they hoped to eventually be testing Yahoo! results.

Originally found on Cre8tive Flow blog.

Published: July 19, 2004 by Aaron Wall in technology

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