Search Engine User Psychology
Any blogger can attest that they routinely receive visits owing to rather bizarre and improbable search engine referrals. Jakob Nielsen looks at recent studies of search engine user click-through patterns and has some interesting observations.
How gullible are Web users? Sadly, the answer seems to be “very.”
Professor Thorsten Joachims and colleagues at Cornell University conducted a study of search engines. Among other things, their study examined the links users followed on the SERP (search engine results page). They found that 42% of users clicked the top search hit, and 8% of users clicked the second hit. So far, no news. Many previous studies, including my own, have shown that the top few entries in search listings get the preponderance of clicks and that the number one hit gets vastly more clicks than anything else.
What is interesting is the researchers’ second test, wherein they secretly fed the search results through a script before displaying them to users. This script swapped the order of the top two search hits. In other words, what was originally the number two entry in the search engine’s prioritization ended up on top, and the top entry was relegated to second place.
In this swapped condition, users still clicked on the top entry 34% of the time and on the second hit 12% of the time.
Nielson’s analysis of the data seems reasonable enough: Users are lazy, too trusting of the search engines’ ability to sort properly, but do in fact make some rational calculations.