Posted March 18, 2011 6:09 pm by with 1 comment

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Most people use a search engine because they’re looking for an answer to a question, but counter intuitively, most people won’t type an actual question into the query field.

“Who originally sang If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” becomes original, singer, If You Don’t Know. “What can I do on a visit to California?” becomes tourist, California.

But the Q&A format is the basis for and it ties in to content sites such as eHow and Yahoo Answers so comScore decided to take a closer look at the folks who do use Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How in their queries.

When comparing January 2011 to January 2010, their survey found that “How” was the most often used qualifier from the list. How accounted for 431 million searches up 27% from the prior year. And then there’s How’s close cousin, How To.

“How to” drove over 253 million clicks in January 2011, up 35% since last year and growing every day. While the other modifiers lend themselves to text-based answers quite often, “how to” searching has shown an exceptionally high affinity for video search results. Google, eHow, YouTube, Yahoo! Answers, and others will all deliver you “how to” instructional videos with your results, whether you run this search on a search engine or on a vertical search site.

They also found that “how to” was popular with a younger audience presumably because they know less than an older audience but maybe it’s that they’re less stubborn about looking for help!

The next highest modifier was “What” with 253 million searches, up 35% over last year. To be more specific 67 million searches included “What is” with “What does” and “What are” close behind. Personally, I’d go with “What if,” but that’s just me.

“Where,” and “When” are pretty neck and neck. “Who” edged them out slightly but comScore says the data was corrupted by two popular songs with “Who” in the title that skewed the results higher than they should have been.

The least used question was “Why” and that’s kind of sad. Apparently the majority of searchers are not interesting in learning about the meaning of life or the mysteries of the universe.

Now here’s a question for you. Why don’t people routinely type full sentences into a search blank when it’s the most natural thing to do?

  • A lot of companies have known about this for a while and have used this information to create content. Demand Media is one of the best known in this area. They buy a lot of search data that drives their editorial calendar, so these numbers are not surprising if we look at what types of content Demand Media creates (

    I think people don’t use the full question phrasing in search queries because Google has taught us not to. 5 years ago, if you searched for “How to donate a used car in London”, chances were you would not find anything, so Google told you to make your query more general. At least that’s why I rarely use queries that have more than 4 words.