More words in average search query: Hitwise

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Longer search queries are becoming more popular year over year according to a report put out by Hitwise. Though the majority of searches are one, two and three word queries, these length terms are down 3%, 5% and 1%, respectfully. But queries with four to eight words and over are all up year over year in growth ranging from 3% to 20%.

“Longer search queries are not becoming popular in the traditional sense of the word,” said Kevin Lee, chairman, CEO and co-founder of search agency Didit. “Longer queries are a sign of the searchers becoming more educated and savvy and essentially being trained by the fact that results for shorter queries tend to return less relevant results than longer searches.”

Keith Hogan, VP of technology at, agrees that users are expecting more from engines. He said that while users used to type a brand name into an engine and then navigate the brand's site for the info they need, today they're not interested in navigating a site. “Before users might enter a query like ‘periodic table' looking for the atomic weight of Boron.” He explained that now a user will type the full question because they want to be led to the answer directly from the search result page.

“One thing you see a lot of search sites doing is promoting big [user-generated] question aggregator sites,” Hogan said. “That's not the place that search engines want to pull information from. They want it from an authoritative source.”

He suggests brands structure their Web sites in a way that search engines can extract more information from them, for example a FAQ page.

While brands work on search engine optimization, Lee went on to explain that many academics and search engines are working on better predicting the search intention of internet users even when they are using shorter search terms. “[They do this] through a combination of searcher profiling—prior search behavior or user volunteered data—and use of additional non-search data such as geography, Internet Service Provider (ISP) and perhaps connection speed,” he said.

In the Hitwise report, the February 2009 search engine rankings were also released in which all four major engines showed less than a 1% change from January. Google stayed about level at 72% of the share. Yahoo hovered around 17% and Microsoft and Ask remained around 5% and 3%, respectively.

Year over year, however, Google showed the only growth, its share going up 8% from February 2008. Year over year shares went down for Yahoo (17%), Microsoft (20%) and Ask (10%) since last year.


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