Explain This: One-Word Searches Up 17% in 2009

Filed in Searcher Behavior, Statistics by Matt McGee on February 12, 2010 22 Comments

For years, the conventional wisdom has been that searchers are typing longer queries into the search boxes on Google, Yahoo, and Bing. The evidence I’ve seen in the analytics for the four hyperlocal blogs that my wife and I write support that: On our Richland Real Estate blog, for example, seven of the top 10 referring keywords in 2009 were four words or longer.

But the folks at Experian Hitwise have shared some numbers with me today that suggest otherwise. According to their user tracking, one-word searches jumped by 17% in 2009, while longer searches were generally down.


To be clear – the chart above represents the query lengths that produce a click.

So, could this be due solely to the change Google made to show local results on broad, one-word queries like “attorneys” and “restaurants” and more?


Both Yahoo and Bing now do the same.

Other than that, I don’t know how to explain it. Comments are open if you have thoughts.

Comments (22)

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  1. MikeTek says:

    I’m as stumped as you are. This flies in the face of the general long tail SEO theory most of us subscribe to.

    Your thinking on the local listings returned for single-word queries would be my first guess too, but there isn’t much of a way to test that theory.

    Interesting, in any case.

  2. David Mihm says:

    I think you got it…

  3. Bryan Phelps says:

    I think that the growth in mobile search could also have something to do with it. My search behavior is different on my phone than at a desktop. Typing single word queries is easier on a handheld device.

  4. Ann says:

    I think its part mobile and the changing search behavior as a result of mobile.

    Also, I’m not sure how many people do this, but I’ve notice my using the search engines as a dictionary or one word spell check more often than not.

  5. shreyam says:

    I agree with Bryan Phelps that mobile growth in recent year can increase the traffic in one world search!!!

  6. good and interesting post.typing single word like that is easier but the word must refer something special or unique

  7. Previous comments on Mobile being a reason sounds realistic. I know that when I search via mobile I tend to cut down on characters for convenience. I also have caught myself using shorter word count queries lately when I am looking for something local because I know that there is a good chance I will see the 7 pack.

  8. bortokali says:

    I do agree that mobile search might have to do with it,but also using search to chwck word spelling is increasing & might be another factor as well.

  9. I like the thought on mobile usage, that could be a factor.

    I’ve always thought that as the masses get used to searching, the length of those searches will lengthen. But I believe long tail searches are for people who are searching for a particular item or piece of information. But, when doing some general informational searches I think most people start with simple, short searches.

    I used to work for a directory company. They found that simple terms were used by people just gathering information (early in the buying cycle). The longer, more specific terms were used by people further along in the buying cycle and knew what they needed.

    My theory is that as the masses get more savvy in searching, they use different search methods for gathering different types of info.

  10. Matt, no one has stated the obvious. The one boxes and 3/10 paks are gone for those one word terms and IMO, they were mostly shite and spam and not getting clicked. Now they remove the paks and click rates go up… IMO, don’t expect to see them back until they figure out how to get rid of spam.

  11. Tomasz Tybon says:

    If showed queries resulted clicks than we may exclude dictionary related search, I guess. If we could find out how much of the 1word queries were related with 2 or more words location related queries ie. attorney vs. attorney philadelphia maybe this will be the clue to investigate local search influence, what do you think about that ?

  12. Matt McGee says:

    Terry – what terms are you referring to? The local listings (with map) are showing for all kinds of one-word searches, even when you don’t type a cityname in the search box.

  13. scott says:

    I wish there were a one word misspelling report that might show results of mobile search

  14. Matt, hmmm I don’t even get them for several searches with the city name. Maybe it’s personal search? For instance tried realtors toronto get 10 pak, do realtor toronto none. SEO none, marketing none. Perhaps it’s you do more local searches… I seldom do and w/personal always on… IMO, not for sure that this isn’t affected by it.

  15. Looking for local results for restaurant? with a input box and submit button to search local.

    Did not get a siingle “pak” for any of the terms you suggested. Not being argumentative just interesting to figure how we are getting such drastically different results. Could be I’m in Ca. and Google is so far up my… that they don’t show me local “3/10 paks” cuz I never click them. 😉

  16. I can see one-word searches up for local, especially due to mobile. But I will say that it flies in the face of all evidence I have seen in my accounts. I wish Hitwise would publish a finer-granularity analysis so we can see what specific areas are showing increased one word searches.

  17. Nikhil says:

    Matt, the figures seem to be a bit surprising to me. After I read this post, I went about doing some digging on the assumption that mobile phone searches might have something to do with it. What I found was that even though mobile phone searches are more of the one and two word queries, the percentage of mobile searches in considerably small and does not explain a 17% jump.
    I would invite you to read my post on this link below.

  18. Good quality Post, I think the argument for Long Tail is coming to an end. According to what I have been seeing, I feel it has to do with the recent Google algorithm updates. I agree with some of the comments that the growth of mobile and local search could explain some of the drop for long tail search volume. On the other hand, I still question if customers have actually modified their search behaviors?

  19. Slightly off topic…

    Does anyone know of a source that shows the average number of words in a query as a function of time for a longer period of time, such as the last decade?



  20. Jeff Wines says:

    I have a local listing in Google and It seems that with my business (I’m a Plumber) the single word searches are very common…

    although they get used along with my city too quite often…

    I think single word searches will be great for us businesses owners for volume…

    but the longer searches are generally more specific and can lead to a more qualified customer…


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