3 ways search engines can track your behaviour

Search engines are keyword-led utility tools used to locate information on the web. Most search engines commonly record your behaviour. Some behaviours are commonly known, for example your search history, and some are less known, for instance, tagging your search engine queries. Either way most search engines record user actions to predict user intent within search sessions and, therefore, calculating what information you are going to search for in the near future.

A photo of a mouse cursor

Questionable click? No copyright permission required.

3 levels of search engine user tracking

  1. User actions can be tracked by search engines, for example, query logs, clicks and scoring. By analysing keywords with each of these user actions, search engines can further add value to this data. Query logs can also include subject categories, time spent on individual webpages and calculating what a searcher’s most favourite category is. This is likely to be constructed on a 3D cube with 3 dimensions: length, breath, and depth.
  2. Hidden user actions are tracked in a technical manner, such as, using AJAX or javascript. Hidden search engine actions include mouse movements or, for example, scrolling. Such tracking requires third party techniques because search engine instruments cannot record such data in their own right.
  3. Popular search engines now carry out regular user testing whereby Google, Bing and Yahoo, for example, get participants to sit in front of their search engine and complete eye tracking (the third way search engines track behaviour). These observed actions are much more sophisticated and are often incorporated with wider IT diciplines, such as, usability testing, for instance.

Tracking your behaviour, your rights

There is no international law that covers search engine tracking, however, the laws in your home country will help to protect you against legal concerns, for instance, privacy, data protection and breach of confidence. The biggest issue with search engine tracking is that we do not, as of yet, know precisely what search engines use to track our behaviour. In their response search engines are likely to argue that their tracking helps to increase personalisation and by withholding such methods they are giving away less information to their competitors. Although from a search perspective personalisation is positive, since relevancy of results is increased, public awareness is likely to challenge such behaviour tactics which is why search engines should consider opening up to transparency more and more as time progresses.

What are your opinions? Were you aware of the 3 layers of search engine tracking? Tweet Gerald.

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