Searchers Using Longer Queries in 2009

Filed in Searcher Behavior, Statistics by Matt McGee on February 17, 2009 21 Comments

smx logoReps from comScore, Nielsen Online, and Hitwise spoke last week in a “SearchScape” session at SMX West, and while they all shared some interesting numbers, it was Bill Tancer of Hitwise who really opened my eyes with data about searcher behavior.

The long tail is getting longer; 1- and 2-word queries are on the decline, while 4- and 5-word queries are rising. Even 3-word queries are down slightly, but not enough (in my opinion) to call it part of the trend just yet. Here’s Bill’s chart from last week’s session:

Words/Query	2009	2008	2007
1 word		20.4%	21.1%	24.5%
2 words		23.6%	24.9%	25.7%
3 words		21.8%	21.9%	20.7%
4 words		14.9%	14.5%	13.3%
5 words		8.7%	8.2%	7.5%

Four-word queries are up 12% since 2007, and five-word queries are up 16%.

This fits in with a point I made during my presentation on hyperlocal blogging, and which I wrote about on Hyperlocal Blogger — namely, that people are searching for everything online, and our local blogs are seeing a wide variety of long-tail queries bringing searchers to our blogs.

Update, Feb. 24th: Hitwise has formally published & updated the numbers from this SMX West presentation. I’ve written about it (pretty chart included) on Search Engine Land.

One More Thing…

The other eye-popping stat from this session was shared by comScore’s Eli Goodman:

Yahoo Answers,, and received more than 169 million search click-throughs in December, 2008. That’s a lot of clicks going to answer/reference sites.

Comments (21)

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  1. David Camma says:

    Very interesting information and what I would expect to see. The Answer posts surprised me though, I had no idea that many searches were going through those posts. I have always discounted the importance of those posts. No more.

  2. Miriam says:

    Wow, Matt, your belief in Yahoo! Answers is proving wise in a big way. I remember when you were first writing about it. So far, my user experience with it has been that most of the answers given are pretty unhelpful, but every so often, I’ve come across good and thorough answers there. They really do show up in the SERPs frequently for how-to and what-is kinds of questions. Neat stats.

    The long tail data is amazing! And frankly, it almost could be said to tie in with the Yahoo! Answers, etc. phenomenon. Search queries like, “how to get wine stains out” lead naturally to those answer-type results. Somehow, its all tied in, or at least, your post has made me think so!


  3. Interesting information. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great info especially w/graphic support. I’d be interested in knowing the categorical segregation of long-tail inquiries if such data exists.

  5. Priyanka D says:

    Good information! Good to know these trends

  6. I’ve definitely seen an increase in long tail traffic across all 3 of my sites – and although it’s a bit more time consuming to get trend data on a high number of longer tail terms, it does seem to be the case that we get better conversions the longer the search term.

  7. Patrick says:

    Excellent info. Makes me want to reevaluate our long tail PPC strategy.

  8. Matt McGee says:

    One of these days, I’d like to collate the search terms that bring traffic to the four local blogs my wife and I write — sometimes 7-8 word queries! It’s been amazing to see what kind of local searches people do.

  9. This is excellent information, it just shows that visitors to all sites are getting more search savvy…I would be interested to see the breakdown by year by the top 3 search networks.

    Based on the different demographics for each search engine, this would be interesting to see how this impacts the long tail data.

  10. Steve says:

    I am no expert but if more words are being used to drill down to more relevant content than this must be good news for the small businesses. For example, I am a hypnotherapist and I couldn’t expect to be on page 1 for the keyword “hypnosis” but I have a better chance of being ranked on page 1 for “stop smoking hypnosis london”

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