|From E-Sex to||sets. Note that we removed duplicate|
|queries from the initial results, so val-|
|ues calculated in Tables 2 and 3 reﬂect|
|the distilled set of distinct queries.|
|Table 2 shows little change over the|
|four-year period in terms per query,|
|Search Changes||queries per user, or pages per query—|
|although queries per user took a dip|
|More than 50 percent of 2001 users|
|Amanda Spink, Pennsylvania State University||submitted a single short query, about|
|20 percent submitted two queries, and|
|Bernard J. Jansen, US Army War College|
|another 29 percent entered three or|
|Dietmar Wolfram, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee|
|more unique queries. Users typically|
|Tefko Saracevic, Rutgers University|
|do not add or delete many terms in|
|their subsequent queries.|
|he Web has become a world-|
|wide source of information|
|and a mainstream business||Search||topics||have||shifted,|
|tool. Are human information|
|Tneeds and searching behaviors||but||there||is||little||change||in|
|evolving along with Web content? As||user||search||behaviors.|
|part of a body of research studying this|
|question, we have analyzed three data|
|sets culled from more than one million|
|queries submitted by more than|
|200,000 users of the Excite Web search||is not an easy task. While using data|
|A ﬂuctuating percent of users modify|
|engine, collected in September 1997,||only from Excite is a limitation on our||queries, with 52 percent modifying|
|December 1999, and May 2001.||study, our ongoing analysis of this||queries in 1997, declining to 39.6 per-|
|This longitudinal benchmark study||search engine over a four-year period||cent in 1999, and increasing to 44.6 per-|
|shows that public Web searching is||nevertheless provides a baseline for||cent in 2001. Users tend to move from|
|evolving in certain directions. Speci-||insights into Web searching trends.||broad to narrow terms when modifying|
|fically, search topics have shifted from||Each Excite query log record con-||their queries by changing some individ-|
|entertainment and sex to commerce||tained three fields:||ual terms. However, the total number of|
|and people, but there is little change in||terms often remains the same.|
|query lengths or frequency per user.||• Identification—anonymous code||The continuing use of one short sim-|
|SCOPE OF STUDY||assigned by the Excite server to a||ple query suggests that information|
|user machine.||content providers can expect to reach|
|Excite (http://www.excite.com) is a||• Time of day—in hours, minutes,||Web users by targeting specific high-|
|major Internet media company offering||and seconds.||frequency words such as “free,” “sex,”|
|Web searching and a personalization||• Query—user terms as entered.||“games,” “weather,” and “maps.”|
|portal. Its searches are based on the||Fewer results per query|
|exact terms a user enters in a query.||We analyzed the following user data:|
|Capitalization is disregarded with the||The trend since 1997 shows users|
|exception of logical commands AND,||• Sessions—entire query sequence||viewing fewer pages of results per|
|OR, and AND NOT. There is no stem-||by a user.||query. An Excite results page contains|
|ming. Our study is limited to analysis||• Queries—oneormoreenteredterms.||10 ranked Web sites, and the percent-|
|of users’ queries, as we had no access to||• Terms—any string of characters||age of Excite users who examined only|
|data on the Web sites they accessed.||bounded by white space.||one page of results per query increased|
|Obtaining large-scale query logs||from 28.6 percent in 1997 to 50.5 per-|
|from commercial Web search engines||Table 1 summarizes the three data||cent in 2001. By 2001, more than 70|
W e b T e c h n o l o g i e s
Table 1. Excite data sets for 1997, 1999, and 2001.
1.B.J. Jansen, A. Spink, and T. Saracevic, “Real Life, Real Users, and Real Needs: A Study and Analysis of User Queries on the Web,” Information Processing and Management, vol. 86, no. 2, 2000, pp. 207-227.
2.A. Spink et al., “Searching the Web: The Public and Their Queries,” J. Am. Soc. Information Science and Technology, vol. 53, no. 2, 2001, pp. 226-234.
Table 2. Comparative statistics for Excite Web query data sets— one million queries per study.
|Mean terms per query||2.4||2.4||2.6|
|Terms per query|
|Mean queries per user||2.5||1.9||2.3|
|Mean pages viewed per query||1.7||1.6||1.7|
|Pages viewed per query|
|Users modifying queries||52.0%||39.6%||44.6%|
|Terms not repeated in the data set||57.1%||61.6%||61.7%|
|Use of 100 most frequently occurring query terms||17.9%||19.3%||22.0%|
percent of Excite users looked at two pages or fewer.
Was it that users were satisfied with the results and had no need to view more pages? The trend toward viewing fewer results, combined with the small number of pages viewed and queries per session, suggests that Excite users want more relevant Web sites per total number of sites ret- rieved. Some users continue to have low tolerance for wading through large retrievals.
The continuing low and declining level of user interactivity is a challenge for users and Web search engine design- ers alike. Counter to these trends
toward greater simplicity, the use of Boolean operators increased from 5 percent to 10 percent from 1997 to 2001. A recent longitudinal study of 20,000 Internet users reported little change in Web searching session times (A.L. Montgomery and C. Faloutsos, “Identifying Web Browsing Trends and Patterns,” Computer, July 2001, pp. 94-95).
Despite some high-frequency terms, an unusually large number of terms either are never repeated or are used with low frequency. These include per- sonal names, spelling errors, non- English terms, and Web-specific terms such as URLs.
The Web query vocabulary contains a very large number of different terms compared with large English texts in general. The language of queries has unique characteristics, which content providers can benefit from studying.
How did Web searching topics change from 1997 to 2001? We classi- fied a random sample of 2,414 queries from 1997; 2,539 queries from 1999; and 2,453 queries from 2001 into 11 nonmutually exclusive, general topic categories. Table 3 shows the results.
There is an ongoing shift in search topics. From 1997 to 2001, categories such as “Entertainment or recreation” and “Health or sciences” moved down the ranking. “Commerce, travel, employment, or economy” and “People, places, or things” moved up.
In 1997, approximately one in six Web queries was about sex. By 2001, this was down to one in 12, and many of these related to human sexuality, not pornography. By 1999, “Commerce, travel, employment, or economy,” “People, places, or things,” and “Computers or Internet” moved closer to the top of the list, while “Sex and pornography” and “Entertainment or recreation” moved down.
The shift to e-commerce queries coincided with changes in information distribution on the publicly indexed Web. By 1999, some 83 percent of Web servers contained commercial content. By 2001, Web searching and Web con- tent continued to evolve from an enter- tainment to a business medium.
Interestingly, non-English queries and unclassifiable queries have nearly tripled since 1997. Many queries are single terms such as “naz;” numbers such as “182;” or acronyms, such as “TOF.” Without additional terms, it is difficult for Web search engines to interpret such queries.
This longitudinal benchmark study extends previous research suggesting little movement toward longer or more frequent queries (D. Wolfram et al., “Vox Populi: The Public Search of
Table 3. Distribution of query samples across general topic categories.
|Rank||1997 Excite data set (2,414 queries)||1999 Excite data set (2,539 queries)||2001 Excite data set (2,453 queries)|
|1||19.9%||Entertainment or recreation||24.5%||Commerce, travel, employment,||24.7%||Commerce, travel, employment,|
|or economy||or economy|
|2||16.8%||Sex and pornography||20.3%||People, places, or things||19.7%||People, places, or things|
|3||13.3%||Commerce, travel, employment,||10.9%||Computers or Internet||11.3%||Non-English or unknown|
|4||12.5%||Computers or Internet||7.8%||Health or sciences||9.6%||Computers or Internet|
|5||9.5%||Health or sciences||7.5%||Sex and pornography||8.5%||Sex and pornography|
|6||6.7%||People, places, or things||7.5%||Entertainment or recreation||7.5%||Health or sciences|
|7||5.7%||Society, culture, ethnicity, or religion||6.8%||Non-English or unknown||6.6%||Entertainment or recreation|
|8||5.6%||Education or humanities||5.3%||Education or humanities||4.5%||Education or humanities|
|9||5.4%||Performing or fine arts||4.2%||Society, culture, ethnicity, or religion||3.9%||Society, culture, ethnicity, or religion|
|10||4.1% Non-English or unknown||1.6% Government||2.0% Government|
|11||3.4%||Government||1.1%||Performing or fine arts||1.1%||Performing or fine arts|
the Web,” J. Am. Soc. Information Science and Technology, vol. 52, no. 12, 2001, pp. 1073-1074).
Our results show that Web queries from a major commercial search engine continue to be simple in structure with a minority of queries incorporating advanced search features. Many queries that do contain advanced searching operators are mistakes, such as noncapitalized Boolean operators.
Despite commonly retrieving a large number of Web sites, users tend to view few result pages per query. This trend appears to be increasing with the major- ity of Web users not browsing beyond the first or second page of results.
The language of Web queries is rich and increasingly varied, including peo- ple’s names, acronyms, and non-English terms, as the subject distribution of Web queries moves closer to increasingly commercial and international Web site content.
Many aspects of searching have remained constant even as the Web evolves in size, content, and services. People are seeking to resolve their infor- mation problems via search engines that cater to human-computer interac- tion on a massive scale. We need a new generation of Web searching tools based on a more thorough understand- ing of human information behaviors.
Such tools would assist users with query construction and modification, spelling, and analytical problems that limit their ability or willingness to persist in find- ing the information they need.
As the Web evolves into an interna- tional economic resource, users encounter corresponding risks if they blindly trust the capabilities of Web search engines to retrieve good data from a few key words. Better Web design must be met on the user side by more effective search behaviors.
ur results provide important in- Osights into the state of Web infor- mation and search, which may affect economic, social, and political issues in the future. Critically, we see lit- tle change in user search strategies, cou- pled with ongoing user frustration with the search process. These results pose challenges to Web designers and to organizations that depend on increas- ing Web access by business, medical, educational, and scientific users, as well
as to Web users themselves.
Our studies are intended to motivate the design of more effective tools to counter the large-scale public search- ing behaviors that remain the same even as the Web becomes more com- plex. In addition, our work may encourage users to develop more effec- tive searches. We are currently expand-
ing our study with analysis of large- scale query logs from Fast.no, a European Web search engine. ■
We thank Doug Cutting, Jack Xu, and Soo Young Rieh from Excite@ Home.com, and C. Lee Giles and Dan Lorence of Pennsylvania State Uni- versity for their useful comments and suggestions.
Amanda Spink is an associate profes- sor of information sciences and tech- nology at Pennsylvania State University. Contact her at [email protected]
Bernard J. Jansen is a major in the US Army, currently in the Chief Informa- tion Office, US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pa. Contact him at [email protected]
Dietmar Wolfram is an associate pro- fessor at the School of Information Stud- ies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact him at dwolfram@ uwm.edu.
Tefko Saracevic is a professor in the School of Communication, Informa- tion, and Library Studies at Rutgers University. Contact him at tefko@ scils.rutgers.edu.