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Can visitors quickly sniff out your web content?

June 22nd, 2009 by mdmcginnis

Web searchers have been compared to hunters and gatherers, trying to find the most likely sources of food without using up their strength. Professor Marcia Bates compared it to berrypicking. In the Information Age, we’re looking for information scent to tell us which websites, which web pages, are most likely to give us the answers we need.

As a berrypicker myself, I can tell you that blackberries and dewberries don’t have much scent until you get very close. And that’s the point: you don’t want to wear yourself out trudging over to a berry patch if it has few berries on it. Especially if you’re on the verge of starvation. You don’t want to waste your time clicking on a search result just to see if it was worth clicking on. Me, I work by sight. From a distance, I can identify which plants are berries, how big they are, and if the light is right, how many berries they have. I have to. They say that berrypicking is leisurely, but whoever said that wasn’t as hungry or as passionate about berries as I can be. True berry connoisseurs need quantity as well as quality.

One evidence that web searchers are like berrypickers is the F-shaped pattern you see in eye-tracking heatmaps for search result pages. That is, studies show that when people do a Google search, they don’t even read the whole sentence. Most noticeably, they scan down the left side of the page, looking for information scent. They read some of the top page titles, which are in bold, and read the first part of the top descriptions, but as they go down the page, they read less and less of each result. They almost ignore the last results.

Why do searchers speed-read through Google? Because with all its technology, Google still can’t read their minds, and still provides more information than they have time to review. Words such as “welcome to our site” have no scent, so they have to keep moving.

Sometimes the stakes in search can be high. Later this week, I’ll share a personal example of how information scent helped me find answers during my wife’s recent health emergency.

The World Wide Web is too big for us. Google has indexed one trillion pages. As of last year. It has indexed more now. Finding the right information scent when you search is a matter of life and death. Because, before you’ve wandered through a trillion irrelevant pages to get answers to your question, you’ll be dead.

Monday, June 22nd, 2009 Search, Usability
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1 Comment to Can visitors quickly sniff out your web content?

  1. […] strength. In the Information Age, when we don’t hunt berries much, we’re looking for information scent to tell us which websites, which web pages, are most likely to give us the answers we need. But […]

  2. My desperate search for information scent | Aggie Webmasters on June 25th, 2009

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