One-Word Queries Up 19 Percent In Last Year, Hitwise Says

Filed in Searcher Behavior, Statistics by Matt McGee on June 29, 2012 4 Comments

It looks like searcher behavior is changing. The folks at Experian Hitwise said yesterday that one-word search queries are up 19 percent since last year.

Here’s the chart:


I always like to point out that this isn’t exactly a measurement of all search queries — as you can see in the headline of that graphic, it’s a measurement of searches that produced clicks. In other words, a search like “weather in los angeles” may not produce a click because Google, Bing and Yahoo all show the weather forecast right on the search results page — the searcher doesn’t need to click. (Heck, Bing shows the weather right in the search box itself, before the search button is clicked.)

Nonetheless, “Why?” is the obvious question. Why are one-word searches on the rise, while all other word-length searches are on the decline.

In its release, Experian Hitwise GM Simon Bradstock suggests it’s related to “automated search features,” which I suspect is a reference to the fact that searchers can often get answers/information right in the search results page just by typing things like “weather,” “movies” or “mariners.”

I’d guess that there’s some credence to that. But I’d also add the “Facebook factor.” It’s no secret that a lot of search activity is navigational — users going to Google and typing “facebook” or “youtube” or the name of whatever site they want to reach. And Hitwise said in December that “facebook” has been the top search query for three years running.

In fact, if you look at the most popular search terms for 2011, at least six of them were single words:

I don’t know how Hitwise counts words — if things above like “” and “” count as single words, then nine out of those ten top searches are one word.

What do you think? Why are one-word searches on the rise?

Comments (4)

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  1. Patrick says:

    I recently changed from chrome to mozilla. If I typed facebook in the address bar, it used to go straight to facebook. Now it goes to google, googling ‘facebook’. That may account for a percent or two? Also, i think that real time search helps. before hitting enter, you have already seen that the one word may be enough.

  2. Sandy says:

    I need to think of keywords for this new start up company and I don’t know what kind of keywords are good and worried that the keywords won’t show up on google. Anyways how do you expose a new start up company when you got so many competitions out there that is using the same keywords?

    I really need to monitor how I searched things on the internet….

  3. Matt,

    Thanks for the update! It is crazy to think that this has changed from 22% in 2010 to now almost 30% in 2012 and only 20 months from the time you posted this It’s kinda nuts. I am thinking that when Hitwise talks about the Automated Search features it means the “Auto Complete” and Google Instant feature. Which is the reason I was thinking it would have increased as well.

    That being said the increase in users typing in websites and such as “one word queries” could contribute as well.

  4. Matt McGee says:

    Bryant – I tend to think it’s two things:

    1) An increase in navigational searches like shown above on the graphics — “facebook”, “craigslist” and so forth.

    2) Google, in particular, is getting very good at dealing with one-word searches. Look at what the Knowledge Graph will give you when you type something like “angels” or “apple.” I suspect searchers are going to learn that they can begin with a single word and start to find what they want.

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