So who's doing all this searching anyway?

For the past few weeks I’ve been peeling back the layers on the search onion to understand a few questions. How effective are each of the engines? How do people use search? Who is using search? I’ve shared a few tidbits of these musings on the blog including a post on "search fulfillment" that raised a few hackles and more recently a post on "navigational search." In the interest of peeling back another layer in the continuing quest I thought I’d look into exactly who is performing the highest volume of searches on each engine. The beauty of Compete’s people based approach to click stream data is that I can dig into this question without having to worry about things like bots, meta-search, etc. Every search query we see in our data is a query performed by an actual person.

To start I decided to take a look at the overall search query landscape with respect to volumes of queries performed by the US online population. As we are all well aware the online world is littered with examples of the now infamous "long tail." Search query volumes are no exception.

We ranked individual searchers by the volume of queries performed in a given month and then aggregate their searches into percentiles. What you find is that the top 1% of searchers performs a full 13% of all searches in a given month. If you extend this to the top 20% the number of queries increase to roughly 70%. So in contrast to the standard 80-20 pareto it appears that in web search there is roughly a 70-20 distribution. So what if we break this out by engine?

It appears that high volume Google users are the least concentrated with the broadest distribution as compared to Yahoo! and MSN/Live. 70% of search queries in September were performed by 20% of Google searchers. For Yahoo! the concentration increased to 73% and for MSN/Live searchers 75% of the queries were performed by the top 20%.
Next question "¦ are these high volume searchers the same every month or is there some churn amongst these top searchers?

From this perspective the chart flips, with Google showing the highest concentration of top 20th percentile searchers returning to the top tier in a subsequent month. Yahoo! had roughly 58% of top tier August searchers returning in September. MSN/Live saw only about 52% of the top tier returning. I’m curious about how this looks over the course of a longer period. Do the same 52% to 60% of people continually perform the lion share of searches on the top engines or is there some trend in the data? Does seasonality play a role? So many questions "¦ perhaps for another post.

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