Study of Search Engine Transaction Logs Shows Little Change in How Users use Search Engines

David Hook


A review of:

Jansen, Bernard J., and Amanda Spink. “How Are We Searching the World Wide Web? A Comparison of Nine Search Engine Transaction Logs.” Information Processing & Management 42.1 (2006): 248-263.

Objective – To examine the interactions between users and search engines, and how they have changed over time.

Design – Comparative analysis of search engine transaction logs.

Setting – Nine major analyses of search engine transaction logs.

Subjects – Nine web search engine studies (4 European, 5 American) over a seven-year period, covering the search engines Excite, Fireball, AltaVista, BWIE and AllTheWeb.

Methods – The results from individual studies are compared by year of study for percentages of single query sessions, one-term queries, operator (and, or, not, etc.) usage and single result page viewing. As well, the authors group the search queries into eleven different topical categories and compare how the breakdown has changed over time.

Main Results – Based on the percentage of single query sessions, it does not appear that the complexity of interactions has changed significantly for either the U.S.-based or the European-based search engines. As well, there was little change observed in the percentage of one-term queries over the years of study for either the U.S.-based or the European-based search engines. Few users (generally less than 20%) use Boolean or other operators in their queries, and these percentages have remained relatively stable. One area of noticeable change is in the percentage of users viewing only one results page, which has increased over the years of study. Based on the studies of the U.S.-based search engines, the topical categories of ‘People, Place or Things’ and ‘Commerce, Travel, Employment or Economy’ are becoming more popular, while the categories of ‘Sex and Pornography’ and ‘Entertainment or Recreation’ are declining.

Conclusions – The percentage of users viewing only one results page increased during the years of the study, while the percentages of single query sessions, one-term sessions and operator usage remained stable. The increase in single result page viewing implies that users are tending to view fewer results per web query. There was also a significant difference in the percentage of queries using Boolean operators between the US-based and the European-based search engines. One of the study’s findings was that results from a study of a particular search engine cannot necessarily be applied to all search engines. Finally, web search topics show a trend towards information or commerce searching rather than entertainment.

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