Search Success Rates are Declining – don’t worry that’s a good thing

Search Success Rates are Declining – don’t worry that’s a good thing

6th September 2012

Search success rate is a funny old metric. At Experian Hitwise we define a “successful search” as a search which resulted in a click through to a website. This used to be a good measure of how competent search engines were at delivering relevant results to users – the theory being that if a consumer couldn’t find what they were looking for on the SERP they would have to make a further search to access the information they were after.

This was all well and good until search engines started getting smarter and realising that they could start offering information to us first hand. Let’s take a simple example of exchange rates. If I want to find out what the current exchange rate is between the pound and the euro and type “pound euro exchange rate” into Bing I don’t need to click through to a currency conversion website anymore, the search engine gives me the information I need directly.

Without clicking on any of the 41 million results offered I already know that the current exchange rate is 1.26 euro to the pound. Search engines effectively cut out the middle man and started giving us the answers we wanted without us ever having to navigate away from the search engine.

Over the last few months in particular Google’s search success rate has been declining. Google’s Knowledge Graph which was launched in May 2012 has seen the Google UK search success rate drop from 77% in April to 75% in August. That might not sound like much, but when you consider 85% of UK searches are conducted each month on Google UK and there are over 2 billion visits to search engines a month, this decline in search success rate equates to 38 million searches a month that were not resulting in a click to a website.

Google Knowledge Graph UK search success rate dropped to 75%: 38m searches a month not resulting in a click

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Google’s Knowledge Graph now means I don’t even need to use Wikipedia if I want to find out who The Black Keys are or what events they are going to be playing at. Google can tell me all that information and more from one simple search.

Cynics may bemoan our increasing reliance on search and Google in particular but from the users’ perspective Google is undoubtedly making our online experiences simpler, quicker and more efficient – giving us the information we want with the minimum number of clicks.

Which brings us back to the humble search success metric. Stripped of its ability to reliably differentiate a good search engine from a bad search engine what remains for this stalwart of online analytics? Fortunately search success rates are still hugely useful in identifying gaps in online content across all search engines.

60% of searches were made by people who couldn’t find a result they felt was relevant enough to warrant a click.

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The average search success rate in August for all terms for Maxi dresses was 83% and yet searches for ‘cotton maxi dresses uk’ (the 49th most popular Maxi dress search term) had a search success rate of just 41%. That means 60% of searches for ‘cotton maxi dresses uk’ were made by people who couldn’t find a result they felt was relevant enough to warrant a click. To the enterprising SEO with clients in the fashion industry, those kind of opportunities are gold dust. Long live the search success metric.

Until next month.


Written By
James Murray is the Product Marketing Manager for Bing Ads EMEA.
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