Keywords and web search engines

The number of keywords used varies for a variety of reasons, for instance user intent and what our information needs are, but some studies have found interesting keyword statistics.

How many keywords are typed?

One study looked at the number of keywords used for website search engines, such as Wall Street Journal, and found that keywords are between 2.9 and 3.7 words. Another study found that we use, on average, 4 terms for normal searches but up to 6 terms for advanced searches. The exact number of keywords varies from search engine to search engine, let alone from person to person.

Another user behaviour study found that people generally type 2.7 terms or 13.6 characters. Further analysis also found that 17% have not been able to return to a webpage they once visited. This shows memory and search engines go hand in hand. Striking websites, however, are more likely to be remembered since it triggers an interest. Great content, catchy logos and effective designs make striking websites.

Looking specifically at search logs from file-sharing websites, equivalent to transactional queries on web search engines, one study found that keywords were usually between 5 and 6 words. User intent heavily influences the number of keywords we type.

Fewer keywords are more popular and competitive.

Photo showing fewer keywords are more popular; thus competitive. Source.

There is less competition, from an SEO perspective, for longer search terms. Some scholarly articles have argued that long tail queries were associated with poor search success. It is not a good idea to only target long tail queries.

Importance of long tail searches*

Easy to rank
More conversational and natural
Long tail searches work well with content marketing
Especially if you are creating an informal content marketing campaign or using actual questions.

*Modified from (The Marketing People no date: online).

User behaviour and algorithms

One thorough study of Yahoo log files found that 88% of repeat clicks occurred if search engine rankings did not change whereas 47% clicked on new websites if rankings changed. Searchers’ like new websites by exploring a range of results on a search engine results page.

How many keywords do you type into a search engine? Tweet Gerald.

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  1. Graphic, Visualization, and Usability Center. GVU’s Tenth WWW User Survey. October 1998.
  2. Lau, E.P. and Goh, D.H.L. (2006) In search of query patterns: A case study of of university OPAC. Information Processing and Management. 42[Issue number missing] pp. 1316–1329
  3. Ruthven, I. (2003) Re-examining the potential effectiveness of interactive query expansion. Proceedings of the 26th Annual ACM International Conference on Research and Develpoment in Information Retrieval. New York: ACM Press pp. 213–220
  4. Teevan, J. Adar, E. Jones, R. and Potts, M. (2006) History repeats itself: Repeat queries in Yahoo’s logs. SIGIR. pp. 703 — 704
  5. The Marketing People. (no date) 6 reasons why long tail searches are important too [Online] [Accessed on 09th September 2013]


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