Yahoo Study Shows Search Responsible for 1 in 5 Pageviews Online

Would it surprise you if searches on the Web make up around 10 percent of all pageviews on the Web, and indirectly led to more than 21 percent of the pages viewed online? It surprised a couple of researchers from Yahoo.

That’s the result of a study conducted by Ravi Kumar and Andrew Tomkins from a sample of over 50 million user pageviews that they collected during 8 days in March, 2009. The information was captured through the Yahoo toolbar from people who agreed to the collection of data for this kind of analysis. Additional information was added by looking at the search logs from Yahoo.

While the data is limited to users of the Yahoo toolbar who agreed to the use of the data, and doesn’t include mobile searches or searches that used AJAX to display results, it does capture how people browse the Web and search at a number of search engines as well as searches at sites like eBay and Amazon.

The study is described in a paper titled A Characterization of Online Search Behavior (pdf), and is being presented tomorrow at the WWW2010 Conference in a session dedicated to User Models on the Web.

While the information collected by the Yahoo researchers may not reflect all searchers, it does provide some interesting insights into how people browse and search on the Web, and gives us some interesting statistics to think about. The researchers also provide some interesting details on what kinds of things people tend to search for when they search.

The study begins by comparing all pageviews recorded by the toolbar, and seeing what percentages of those are from a main web search (from a search engine such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask, and AOL), what percentages are multimedia searches (from places such as YouTube, Hulu, Flickr, and Picasa), and for site searches of items (on sites like Amazon, eBay, Craigslist, Imdb, Singlesnet, Careerbuilder, and Leboncoin).

They tell us that main web search accounted for 6.2 percent of all pageviews, multimedida searches take up 1.4 percent, and item searches another 1.4 percent. They followed browsing trails from these searches to the pages that searchers followed from the searches, and tell us that those pages browsed as a result of searches result in another 12.4 percent of pages visited on the Web.

The searches and the pages browsed as a result of the searches account for 21.4 precent overall of all pages visited during the 8 days included in this study, or about 1 in 5 pageviews.

Types of Searches

The Yahoo paper goes into a fair amount of detail on how they identified pages visited as being searches, and how they decided to investigate further to see what kinds of things people were searching on those search pageviews.

In investigating what kinds of things people were searching for, the researchers decided to take a random sampling of queries identified from the Yahoo web search query log.

They noticed that about 50 percent of queries refered directly to some kind of specific item or object, that 8.5 percent were about some broad topic or concept, and smaller percentages of searches included things like searches for URLs of pages and for navigational queries that didn’t include URLs but were aimed at bringing searchers to specific pages.

The study took a look at the kinds of specific items and objects made up about half the queries identified, and broke them down into the following categories, with percentages of queries for each:

  • Event – 2.31
  • Games – 1.15
  • Notable person – 13.08
  • Ordinary person – 4.42
  • Specific product – 11.35
  • General product – 8.56
  • Places – 4.90
  • Business Categories/Services – 7.69
  • Health Issues – 1.35
  • Real estate – 1.15
  • Media title (names of movies, ED albums, etc.) – 10.10
  • Organization (businesses, nonprofits, government) – 33.94

The study also looked at “checkout” pageviews to see how often people arrived at ecommerce checkout pages, and tell us that approximately 20 percent of people making a purchase online eventually arrived at that page directly or indirectly from a search pageview.

The conclusions from the paper include this statement:

We conclude that the impact of search on online activity is more significant than we had anticipated on undertaking this work, and that the impact of structured data on search, while already large, leaves significant headroom for future extensions of the search product.


It’s rare when one of the major search engines digs into the data it might collect from a source like their toolbar or log files, and shares the results of their analysis of the information they’ve collected. It would be great to see more studies like this one.

People do start off viewing pages on the Web in ways other than through searches, such as visiting sites that they’ve bookmarked, typing addresses straight into their browser address bars, following links to other pages, and accessing pages through other applications such as email or IM.

This study tells us that 8 days of Yahoo toolbar data, collecting the browsing activity of a large number of people, indicates that searches of the Web, multimedia, and items take up about 10 percent of all pages viewed online, and those search starting points lead to another 11 percent of pages viewed on the Web.

It’s possible that if you conducted this study with the Google toolbar, or the Bing Bar, or looked at data from places like internet service provider log files, you might see different numbers. But, it’s an interesting study, it gives us a sense of how important search is to people who use the Web.


Author: Bill Slawski

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