Longer queries on the rise as searchers become savvier

Longer search queries are increasing year-over-year as searchers become more savvy, according to a new report from Hitwise.

While the majority of searches are one-, two- and three-word queries, these length terms are down 3%, 5% and 1%, respec­tively. 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.”

Users are expecting more from engines, agrees Keith Hogan, VP of technology at Ask.com. While users used to type a brand name into an engine and then navigate the brand’s site for information, today, they’re not interested in navigating, he said.

“Before, users might enter a query like ‘periodic table’ looking for the atomic weight of boron,” he said. Now, users will type in a full question because they want to be led to the answer directly from the search result page, Hogan explained.

“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.”

While brands work on search engine optimization, Lee said 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 and perhaps connection speed,” Lee said.

The Hitwise report also included the Feb­ruary 2009 search engine rankings, which showed all four major engines with a less than 1% change from January.

Google stayed about level, with 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 among search engines, with its share rising 8% from February 2008. Year-over-year shares went down for Yahoo (17%), Microsoft (20%) and Ask (10%).

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