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October 1, 2007

Does Blended Search, User Type Change Compete’s Data?

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Compete revealed some interesting numbers last week that seemed to prove that Yahoo is the most relevant search engine, beating all the top dogs, including Google. How did they get to this conclusion? They conducted a survey that found that while 67 percent of users searching in August used Google, only 65 percent of those users actually clicked on something. Contrarily, Yahoo took home 20 percent of August’s searches, with 75 percent resulting in referrals. Confused? Okay, then just go ahead and look at the pretty graph.


See how Yahoo’s green bar is bigger than everyone else’s? That means they win, at least according to Compete.

Not to be a skeptic, but I’m somewhat wary to believe that this data actually means anything. I mean, if we were living in a time when everyone had relatively the same amount of search savvy and we didn’t have this thing called "blended search", then maybe I’d buy it. But the fact is, we’re not living in that era and blended search does exist.

I don’t know that many people who tout Yahoo as their search engine of choice, but the users that I do know aren’t all that picky. They’re not living in a technology black hole or anything, but they’re not out there conducting a million searches a day. And when they do, because they use all of Yahoo’s other Web properties, they immediately trust that Yahoo is going to give them accurate results. So when a result appears, they click on it.

I don’t know whether that’s necessarily true for the other engines. I know it’s definitely not true for Google. Of course this is somewhat of a generalization, but for the most part, users who search with Google are more search savvy, and, therefore, are more likely to question the results being displayed. I rely on Google a lot in my day-to-day life, but I have no problem calling their bluff when I think I was just given an inaccurate result. I have no problem going back into my search bar and changing my search.

It’s probably also an error to assume that just because someone clicked on a result that they were happy with it. Whose to say Yahoo doesn’t get more clicks because users are having trouble finding the information they were looking for?

Personally, I’m very picky about the results that I click on. I will only clickthrough to a Web site if I am relatively sure that the page listed will be able to satisfy me. Are all searchers this discerning? Is there a correlation between the pickiness of the searcher and the engine they’re using? I don’t know for sure, but I’d be very interested in those results.

And then there’s the issue of blended search. Today we have this great functionality where users get the answers to their questions directly from their search results. It doesn’t matter if they’re looking for quick stats, images, video or song clips. Blended search makes this information accessible directly from the SERP. There’s no clicking involved. Yahoo isn’t experimenting with blended search the way Google and Ask.com are. It makes sense that even for the same search, Yahoo would receive more clicks than Google, since Yahoo users have to actually click through to see the information. With Google, it’s right there.

I don’t know, I’m not saying that Yahoo doesn’t do a great job of satisfying searchers. I just think there’s a lot to take into consideration before making such a blanket statement that Yahoo does a better job of serving its users. I mean, who are its users? Are they searchers who have aligned themselves with the Yahoo brand and therefore trust every result Yahoo displays? Or are they savvier than that? Constantly drilling down their search query until they find their perfect set of search results before they’ll commit to a click. I don’t use Yahoo, I use Google and Ask, so I really don’t know. Feel free to enlighten me.

I also can’t help but wonder how much longer we’re going to be obsessing over the number of clicks or page views a search engine receives. It seems like these stats are becoming less and less noteworthy, especially with things like AJAX and blended search throwing a wrench into the entire equation.

Where this information is useful, however, is when you’re deciding which engine you’re going to focus your search engine optimization efforts. For example, if you know that Yahoo searches are more product-oriented and that users are more likely to trust the Yahoo SERP, well then, getting your business to rank well on Yahoo may be a very good thing for your company.





One response to “Does Blended Search, User Type Change Compete’s Data?”

  1. Megan writes:

    Lisa,

    I really enjoyed this post. You shed light on many of the underling elements behind Compete’s recent findings. And I completely agree with you assessment of Yahoo! users.=)



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