The Importance of Being First

April 11, 2008

Alex Moskalyuk’s Web log contained a posting on April 10, 2008, that asserted “68 percent of search engine users click on the first page of results.” The story appeared in his Web log on Ziff-Davis’ ZDNet.com site. These data can be tough to find after a few days. Please, access the story and capture the data, which are from iProspect, a unit of the Aegis Group.

I am skeptical of usage data from Internet consultancies and search engine optimization companies. With that caveat in mind, the iProspect data reveal a significant trend in search system user behavior. Specifically, over time–if the data are accurate–users click on the first page of results only. The chart below illustrates this trend:

PageClickData

The top line is climbing, and it means that almost half of the users on Web search systems click on the first page of results. No real surprise, I suppose. The two other lines underscore the fact that fewer and fewer users are working through laundry lists of results. If these data are accurate, information on any other than the first page is not likely to get reviewed by a user.

What’s this mean for enterprise search (sometimes called Intranet search or behind-the-firewall search)? Users won’t spend much time looking for information if it is not slapped in front of their face. Key word search in organizations is generally a push cart filled with items that may or may not be pertinent to the employee’s query. If consumer behavior carries over to enterprise searchers, any system that takes a query such as “Acme proposal” and generates lists of results is going to be annoying.

Enterprise search system users need information to do their jobs, so the laundry list is almost a cinch to be more work than hunting for the needed information in other ways.

The iProspect data have another hook for me. As more young people enter the work force, Web behaviors are going to color their expectations of online search in their employer’s organization. Faced with laundry lists when Google and Microsoft personalize results, using probabilities to deliver a best guess about what’s needed by a particular person, traditional search systems in an enterprise are going to attract fewer and fewer enthusiastic users.

With the attention reports about deep-seated dissatisfaction about traditional enterprise search and content processing systems becoming more widely known, Mr. Moskalyuk’s Web log has provided another chunk of suggestive, interesting data. More details about enterprise search are needed, but in the search business, we have to take what the vendors provide. Like it or not.

Stephen Arnold, April 11, 2008

Comments

5 Responses to “The Importance of Being First”

  1. Confluence: Site Design on April 16th, 2008 9:08 am

    Some links for light reading – April 16th, 2008…

    By The Numbers…

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    […] finding exactly what we’re looking for has become increasingly difficult, especially when the average user gives up after the first page of results (myself included.)  That’s why in my previous article on this subject, I extolled the […]

  3. Stephen E. Arnold on July 2nd, 2008 8:56 am

    Thanks for the posting. If you might clarify your remarks, I will be able to respond.
    Stephen Arnold, July 2, 2008

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    […] The Importance of Being First […]

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