Posted October 23, 2007 4:30 pm by with 12 comments

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A Kelton Research study, commissioned by Autobytel, reports that 72.3% of US adult searchers “experience ‘search engine fatigue’ (either ‘always,’ ‘usually,’ or ‘sometimes’) when researching a topic on the Internet.”

What should this statistic tell us?

  • 72.3% of Americans should definitely put down the mouse and step away from the keyboard. Permanently.
  • 72.3% of Americans are searching for the wrong things “always,” “usually,” or “sometimes.”
  • 72.3% of Americans have no idea how to operate a search engine properly.
  • 72.3% of Americans are frustrated with their search engine experience, and this probably reflects on the search engines and not the vast majority of American adults.

While I was leaning toward D, Greg Sterling on Search Engine Land highlighted some of the other findings from the study:

–65.4 percent of Americans say they’ve spent two or more hours in a single sitting searching for specific information on search engines.

–More than three out of four (75.1 percent) of those who experience search engine fatigue report getting up and physically leaving their computer without the information they were seeking – either “always,” “usually” or “sometimes.”

Is it search engines’ or searchers’ faults that the vast majority of searchers 1.) spend hours looking for information online, 2.) develop fatigue and 3.) give up and walk away from the computer?

And then we see the ultimate frustrations that these searchers experienced. The “#1 complaint” mentioned by searchers was:

  • 25 percent cited a deluge of results
  • 24 percent cited a predominance of commercial (paid) listings
  • 18.8 percent blamed the search engine’s inability to understand their keywords (forcing them to try again)
  • 18.6 percent were most frustrated by disorganized/random results

Each of these complaints could be blamed on either the search engine or the searchers themselves. Too many results? Is the search engine overwhelming users or are the searchers entering too generic of terms and unwilling to deal with the consequences?

Ultimately, however, I think the root cause of all of this—the complaints, the frustrations and the fatigue—is our expectations of search engines. We type in something and expect the search engine to understand perfectly—we don’t want too many results, too few results, or that are too random. The search engine doesn’t understand [paza hotle] (a search I actually performed earlier this month, sadly)? AUGH.

Actually, to further complicate things, Google, Yahoo and MSN do understand [paza hotle]—and some of them even automatically include results for my spell checked query. I don’t have to make any effort to make my queries coherent—the search engine does all the thinking for me. Why can’t it just pick the right result or figure out exactly what I mean by [oneida] or [apple]?

Search engines are working on it, but they’re not there yet. And apparently they have a long way to go if users still have to spend hours looking for things.

What do you think? Is it search engines’ fault or searchers’ fault?

  • ss

    I think there’s a combination of responsibility here. Search engines could probably do a better job, but in truth when you think about what they do it’s amazing sometimes they come close at all to what we want.

    It’s been a long time since I spend more than a few minutes on a search engine trying to find something. Admittedly I spend a lot of time with them and have learned how to use them, but the point is that you can find what you want on any search engine (even MSN) if you know how.

    What I’d like to know is the breakdown of ‘always,’ ‘usually,’ and ‘sometimes.’ I get the feeling the majority of those 72.3% are only sometimes fatigued. We’re all fatigued by things sometimes and it’s probably not the most meaningful word in this context. It’s like asking what % of people are sometimes hungry and conclude we’re all starving.

  • I am amazed at these statistics. I have of course met with frustration sometimes when performing searches but that is the exception and not the rule and more often than not it is my own fault for wanting something to be just so! for instance, searching for a spaghetti bolognese recipe which is simple, quick fool proof, with only those ingredients that i have in my rather sparse kitchen. How does google know all these things?:)

  • Most searchers I think are vague in their key word or phrase choice. The fact that they are searching itself is indicative of this. Many of them perhaps do not even know of things like wikipedia, dictionary, thesaurus etc being available on line and if they spent some time on these, before the search, they will be more successful.

  • Pingback: Surf*Mind*Musings » Search is Stateless()

  • Obviously this can be a problem but here at Easy Search Live we are tackling these problems head on your search for “paza hotle” brings up 272 results for “Plaza Hotel” then delivers then in a format that allows the user to visit the listed site while remaining inside the results page (Live View) even making comparison between listings as multiple “Live View” windows may be open.
    your other search requests return simular results with “onieda” returning 9,070,000 results
    this cuts the time required to find information and also relieves a lot of the fatigue caused from continual surfing back and forth between search engine and listed sites.
    give our engine a look and i think you’ll find that we can and do deliver on useability.
    [link removed]

  • We can partly blame the searches but generally we
    should the search engines.

    Search engines were now ads oriented and were more
    cluttered than years before.

  • Jordan McCollum

    @Dave—I’m not sure how having nine million+ results for [oneida] will help solve the #1 complaint listed here—”a deluge of results.”

  • I think this is where there is a huge conflict for the search engines on the one hand users are demanding more results while on the other complaining that they are being fatigued using those results.
    This is where our approach to viewing the listed results comes into play, see most of the fatigue would come from constantly switching back and forth between results page and listed site it is both time consuming and tiring whereas with “Live View” the user can obtain the information required while still on the results page even if that information is buried within the listed site.
    It also allows fast confirmation that the site description is indeed accurate, more and more sites are using deceptive descriptions of their content in order to rank and position higher on the major search engines, this adds to the fatigue as some considerable time can be wasted visiting listings that contain little or no relevence to the users search query.
    Live view allows the user to quickly establish if there is indeed a degree of relevence to his/her query and to cross check that information with other listed sites.
    One simply can’t blame user fatigue on the sheer number of results for a given query as exactly how many results a user opens can be determined on how fast they obtain the information they seek, if an engine only supplied 1 result per query no matter how accurate that information in the result is it may not contain exactly what the user is searching for so a range of results is required.
    even though we supply 9 million results for the term [oneida] we would only expect a user to open a maximum of 10 pages or 150 results, it is for this reason that we try to ensure that those results closest to the front of the results are the most accurate, and to provide a mechanism whereby a user can cross-reference.
    You may have also noted the tabs across the top of our engine along with a small box containing [Worldwide] these functions allow users of Easy search Live to further restrict their search results either by the type of result returned (tabs) ie: Blogs only or forums only etc or by geographic region [Worldwide > Australia etc](this function relies on a site using geomapping in their meta tags).
    Thus reducing the deluge of results and again increasing the accuracy of the search system.
    [link removed]

  • Personally, I feel that people/businesses have outwitted the basic function of the search engine. I have a website,, that I’ve been promoting vigorously for 2 years with very limited results. Why? Without putting up the big bucks towards a marketing consultant, I’ve researched and found that most of the basic techniques, keywords, link exchanges, search engine submission, meta tags, blogs, newsletters, etc., have been used by the best marketers to push their products. That’s why when one simply goes to a search engine and types in exactly what they’re looking for, one gets a flood of results promoting unwanted products and services. The search engines have been abused by marketers!
    So, what happens to us, the smaller websites that have a voice to share with the world? Do we have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars in order to get a few hits on our websites? (…I’d like and answer to this one…)

    I know that I, too, have a real hard time trying to find anything I was originally searching for online. Research-wise, I think that sometimes it’s just easier to open those things called “books.”

    [link removed]

  • L.L One doesn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to promote their site and get results, if you want to learn how to do this your self and with little or no costs email me

  • Jordan McCollum

    @LL—I understand that you’ve had a frustrating experience, but I wouldn’t expect too much sympathy from around here, considering that probably 70%+ of our audience is made up of Internet marketers.

    Speaking from a marketer’s perspective, it doesn’t do us any good to “promot[e] unwanted products and services.” They don’t get clicks, they don’t get sales, and we don’t get happy clients.

    Free advice: I recommend SEOmoz’s beginner’s guide to SEO (which they’re in the process of updating now; free), Aaron Wall’s SEO Book ($80), Search Engine Guides’s Small Business Guide to Search Engine Marketing ($80) and/or Search Engine Optimization an Hour a Day (a paper book; $20).

    Sometimes it is easier just to crack a book to get research done—but only if you have the book in your hands.

  • Search engines still heavily rely on keywords. Simplicity is its power yet its weakness at the same time. Maybe a more holistic and sentencial structures would help in the future.