Study Shows How Consumers Search, 1 in 4 Uses Questions in Query

Peter Roesler, President - Web Marketing Pros

By Peter Roesler

President, Web Marketing Pros

For all the talk about how the internet has affected consumers, it’s important to remember that the way consumers use the internet has shaped the development of the web. The evolution of search is a good example of this. Every popular change that Google and other search engines have implemented was based on the trends they saw in user behavior. Marketers can learn from this by creating content that fits the needs of their target audience as shown by data. A recent study on the habits of internet searchers can provide insight on the best practice for content creation for internet marketers.

Blue Nile Research conducted a relatively small study (about 180 participants) that sought to see how consumers use search engines to find information in particular situations. The subjects were asked to search for information for a technical problem (a broken coffee pot); a health situation (a broken ankle); and a ecommerce issue (searching for a new laptop). The study’s author believes that the way the respondents answered those questions is useful to marketers.

“With the research showing no clear clustering in how users phrase their searches, marketers who wish to be well prepared to reach their target audience must be thorough in first understanding how their audience chooses to search before developing a strategy and by crafting content that closely maps to their pain points,” wrote Nathan Safran in a blog post about the research.

The results showed that people were about evenly split between query fragments of two to three words and full queries of more than four words. The researchers attributed this to the subjects having two styles of research methods.


Fragment queries lend themselves to people who were willing to “Throw anything to the wall and see what sticks” as the researchers described it, in their search for information. People who use this method are willing to click through several links to find information and will sometime follow up with a more specific query.

Full queries were used by people who wanted to “Be Specific Right Out the Gate”.  These people usually thought a little longer before starting a search and wanted to get the answer they sought on the first link.

Furthermore, more than a quarter (27%) of the people in the survey reported they prefered to phrase their queries in the form of a question. This is important for marketers because including these question words in headlines can help a page reach the top result for a specific question based search. For example, instead of a page titled “Laptop Screen Repair Guide” a better title would be “How to Fix a Broken Laptop Screen”. The latter is more likely to be an exact match for something put into a search query.

However, all question words aren’t created equal and some are used more often and in different ways by searchers. According to the report, the most popular question word was ‘How’ (38%), followed by Why (24%), Where (15%) Which (12%), and What (11%). Content creators need to keep in mind what specific piece of information people are looking for when they ask a question and make sure that information is easy to find. If the searcher is looking a quick answer, burying it the information in a mountain of text can frustrate a reader and send them to another site.

Another takeaway from this research is that marketers shouldn’t rely solely on Google’s keyword tool to determine all the keyword phrases they should target. The researchers used the issue about the coffee pot that won’t turn on to prove that point. None of the keyword phrases it gave were used by the respondents, and it didn’t suggest question-based queries which is what a person facing that issue is likely to use.

Though it’s based on a small sample size, the Blue Nile Research is interesting and worth checking out in depth. Being better equipped to create content that meets the needs of the target consumer can help increase traffic, conversions and revenue.

For some more research about internet marketing, read this article on what marketers should be doing for Mother’s Day.

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