Tag Archives: data

Why people use search engines?

In 2012 the world made 1.2 trillion searches on Google. What do we turn to search engines for information?

Why we ask search engines for information?

Everyone uses a search engine for one of two reasons. Hoping to resolve some problem, is the first, or, secondly, to achieve some goal which is usually linked with expanding knowledge. Choosing correct keywords to represent information, however, proves difficult for people.

Clay and Esparza take a different approach as to why people use search engines. They conclude that there are three categories:

This is linked to looking for answers to queries, as well as, finding data or information to make a decision.
Usually these transactional queries use phrases, such as, “best price” or “free shipping”, for instance.
The vast information on the addictive web means people will happily spend a long time on a search engine to find various entertaining sources.

One study analysed the impact of task phrasing and found that different phrases produces different results. This is important for digital marketers, for instance, because they need to think of the various ways people ask for the same information.

It is a good idea to think about the 4 types of web search queries (informational, navigational, transactional and connectivity) and match these to your website. Knowing about keyword searching allows you to make your website visible for more search queries. This, in turn, allows more people to discover your site which allows your organisation to grow organically.

Processed information allows us to have wisdom.

Data, information, knowledge and wisdom.

Presentation of SERP

  • Position and relevance of results changes how a searcher examines the information they asked for
  • Search queries and snippets go hand-in-hand because long snippets lead to better search performance for informational tasks but degrade navigational performance

It is also worth noting, through click-though rates, that we are biased towards highly ranked results. When we ask for information and the results appear to be relevant to our search query approximately 33% of us are likely to click the first organic link. It is a good idea to monitor the rank and position of your keywords.

If you are checking what position keywords appear remember to minimise personalised results by using, for example, incognito browsing mode, cookie removing software and sign out of your user account. Everyone’s results are different due to personalisation.

Analysing user’s search behaviour allows us to conclude that most people, on average, search for 2-3 keywords. Think about what your audience will write and see where you rank for these terms.

Why do you use search engines? Tweet Gerald.

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  1. Barsky, E. and Bar-Ilan, J. (2011) The impact of task phrasing on the choice of search keywords and on the search process and success. Journal of American Society for Information Science and Technology. 63(10) pp. 1987–2005
  2. Belkin, N.J. (2000) Helping people find what they don’t know. Communication of the ACM. 43(8)
  3. Clay, B. and Esparza, S. (2012) Search engine optimization all-in-one for dummies. John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, NJ.
  4. Zeitgeist. (no date) 2012 Search Trends: The World.

Information needs

Information needs play a large role in understanding why a searcher wants to find out information, as well as, identifying some circumstances which cause us to find information. An information need on a weekday at lunchtime could be to look at the BBC’s website for the latest news whereas an information need on a Sunday evening at home could be to find information on our favourite musical band. So information needs, ultimately, are the things a searcher wants to find out. Understanding information needs allows us understand an important concept as to why we search for information.

Why search history is different in work compared to home?

Information needs are influenced by our environment which affects our search behaviour. This could partly explain why our search history is different in work compared to our personal laptop at home: A work environment is different than a personal environment which means our search behaviour will also be different because of our environment.

Photo illustrating the connection between user interface, search functionality and content. Click image for source.

Photo illustrating the connection between user interface, search functionality and content. Click image for source.

What might influence why we search?

Studies of information needs began at the end of the 1940s when information needs developed (Odini 1993:29). Some general factors of informational needs were also identified by Odini (1993) and they include:

  • What source is required and what format does the user want?
  • Any background information on the user (e.g. motivation, occupation, location)?
  • The social, political, economic factors which could affect a search.
  • What will this informational need be a consequence of?

Examples of information needs

Analysing the horse-meat scandal in the UK and Europe illustrates that social and economic factors play a large part in what we, as a population, searched for. In addition, our need to find out whether or not horse-meat was “bad” for us was one of the ultimate consequences of our information needs (bullet point four above). So we can see that if something happens to our environment then we will become influenced by this environment which also impacts on what we might search for.

The device we use also impacts user interaction which has a direct affect on our information needs. This is illustrated in the table below in which mobile devices are emphasized.

Table showing mobile information needs.

Table showing mobile information needs. Click table for source.

Complex information needs

Simply searching for information is actually a complex process because the searcher does not search without thinking what they want (information on [subject-z] or a photo of [item-a]). This complex process is further complicated by information itself: Wilson (1981) identified that information does not have a single definition which makes it difficult to distinguish because information science argues that their are three main types of information: data; information and knowledge (wisdom is often considered as the fourth type of information). So “finding information” is not accurate because sometimes we might search-to-seek for data, raw facts and figures of sports results, or to learn a new concept by “finding knowledge”.

Information needs, in summary, are influenced by our environment which affects what type of information-seeking behaviour we have. SERPs further complicate this because depending upon our mood we might want to separate facts from advice and/or opinions (Wilson 1981). Information needs shapes why we search (if you want to find out how we search read the keyword searching post).

To read a different angle on information needs you can read Wikipedia’s article.

Posted by Gerald Murphy


  1. Odini, C. (1993) Trends in Information Needs and Use Research. Library Review. 42(7) pp. 29 — 37
  2. Wikipedia. (no date) Information needs. [Online] [Accessed on 29th May 2013] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_needs
  3. Wilson, T.D. (1981) On user studies and information needs. Journal of Documentation. 37(1)

Do search engines collect keyword data?

In short, yes! Juarez and Torra (2013) summarise how search engines collect this keyword data:

  • Search engines record the keywords you have used and store them as a server log
  • These logs also store your click-through data (i.e. what you have actually viewed and clicked on)
  • A profile is matched to this record and this profile delivers personalised results

Search engines and your keywords

Grimes et al (2008) suggest that these profiles contain a persons’ area/s of interest, location, age or gender.

Keyword research

Search engines do allow you to access keyword data, Google offers this for free via their AdWords feature, but there are other sources which offer you a bigger range of keyword data.

Keyword Discovery (no date: online), for example, allows paid users to access billions of keyword data whereas Google, in comparison, has a much smaller collection of keyword data because Google is not the only worldwide search engine. This also suggests that other search engines may have lower numbers of users but those who do use unpopular search engines, such as, 7search or AOL, may carry out more searches using that search engine. See this comparison from link three in the references at the end of this post.

It is important to note, however, that Keyword Discovery include Amazon as a search engine when, arguably, a lot of people would not think of associating Amazon as a search engine. Amazon does have a search box and does allow users to search for products by using keyword searching. So Amazon is a search engine.

Posted by Gerald Murphy


  1. Grimes C, Tang D, Russell DDM. (2008) Query logs alone are not enough. In: Workshop on query
    log analysis
  2. Juarez, M. and Torra, V. (2013) Toward a Privacy Agent for Information Retrieval. International Journal of Intelligent Systems. 28 [issue number missing] pp. 606-622
  3. Keyword Discovery. [Online] [Accessed on 24th May 2013] http://www.keyworddiscovery.com/google-adwords-keyword-tool.html