Google Blogoscoped

Monday, September 26, 2005

Users Mostly Click Top Result, Trusting Search Engines

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen points to an experiment* of how users react to the top search results. As was shown in previous studies of this type, most users – 42% – follow the first result shown on the SERPS (the search engine result page). Only 8% click on the second result.

Well, one reason to explain this would be that users simply realize the first result is the most fitting. But, it turns out, most users – 32% – also click on the first result when the first and second results get swapped. 12% of all users, on the other hand, click on the second result (the “real” top result) in that case.

*The experiment was conducted on Google by Professor Thorsten Joachims and his colleagues at the Cornell University.

Of course, as searchers in the “real web” we have learned that the top result usually is the most relevant. (Naturally, as that’s the most commercial thing to do for a search engine: ranking the most relevant on top will make users happy and come back for more.) For those search queries where we really don’t know which result page is the best, we have reason to assume the first result is better than the second – and in the real web we aren’t really confronted with an optimal result being pushed to second place.

Also, from my experience many searchers rather adjust their search query, than go through a lot of results. That means after clicking on the top result and realizing the type of page is not what you wanted, you may go back to Google (or any other search engine of choice) to amend your query and try again – once more clicking on the top result.

Nielsen adds the obvious consequences of this study for search engine optimizers (my emphasis):

“It’s extremely important to be listed first, to the extent that you can achieve this. But it’s also important to have good microcontent to increase the likelihood that users will perceive your site as relevant to their needs. Good page titles and article summaries are a must.”

And, he says:

“Users rely on defaults in many other areas of user interface design. For example, they rarely utilize fancy customization features, making it important to optimize the default user experience, since that’s what most users stick to.”


Blog  |  Forum     more >> Archive | Feed | Google's blogs | About


This site unofficially covers Google™ and more with some rights reserved. Join our forum!