Penn State Study Reveals The Truth Behind Search Engine User Behavior

1 september 2003, 18:02

In this article I summarize the findings of two Penn State University researchers, who analyzed more than 450,000 Web queries submitted to the AllTheWeb search engine in a 24-hour period, reviewing users’ actions in chronological order.

Dr. Jim Jansen and Amanda Spink, both assistant professors in Penn State’s information sciences and technology (IST), analyzed more than 450,000 web queries submitted to the search engine in a 24-hour period, and made some very interesting findings.

They studied the length of sessions, number of pages visited, and relevance of search results. Their findings were presented in a paper titled “An Analysis of Web Documents Retrieved and Viewed” at the 2003 International Conference on Internet Computing in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Here is a summary of their findings:

  • Half of all users entered only one search query.

  • 54 percent viewed just one page of search results per visit to the search engine.

  • Searchers typically visit only the top three search results.

  • About 55 percent of users checked out one result only.

  • Only 19 percent went on to the second page.

  • Fewer than 10 percent bothered with the third page of results.

  • More than 80 percent stopped after looking at three results.

  • Eight out of 10 times, the abstract dissuades searchers from going to a site.

  • Upon clicking through to a site, one in five searchers stay 60 seconds or less.

  • One out of every two search results isn’t relevant to what the searcher was looking for.


Getting your web pages indexed by the search engines is clearly not enough. They must be listed within the first 3 pages of search results, otherwise eight out of ten searchers will never find it. Ideally, you should strive for a first page listing. For best results, a top 3 ranking is needed.

To enhance your chances of getting your listing clicked, improve your site’s search result abstract by making it more enticing and relevant to the searcher. Many search engines, such as Google, use the contents of the META description tag as the search results abstract, if the contents of the tag includes the search query. So take another look at your web page META description tags.

The findings of this study reiterate the importance of optimizing your web pages for top search engine rankings. Ignore it at your peril.


Impatient Web searchers measure Web sites’ appeal in seconds

Impatient Web searchers measure Web sites’ appeal in seconds (backup)

Marco Derksen
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