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Search Engine Strategies came to London in May. As I did not have to speak until the second day, I decided to sit in on a few of the sessions. The session on Searcher Behavior Research revealed an interesting angle on user behavior online. Graham Hansell from Sitelynx brought along a lady from the London School of Economics (LSE) who had looked at 600 users over a three year period. She tracked those users over 192,000 websites and found some interesting habits.

Users, it appears, are territorial in the way they use the web. The majority spend the vast amount (51%) of their time on just a handful of sites. She called these a user’s "Home" on the web. Literally a handful of sites – maybe 5 for an average user.

Outside this comfort zone a user has a known neighborhood of sites. Again, this is quite a small number, maybe 75 for an advanced user. Users spend 33% of their time in this zone.This only leaves 16% of the time in unknown territory on the web. In fact, they quoted 11%.You would have expected a huge overlap between users using the same "home" sites, but this was rare. 66% of all the 192,000 sites, in fact, were only ever visited by one person in the sample of 600 over the 3 year period!Users spend 15% of their time using search though, often using search to navigate between sites within a user’s known neighborhood. However – and here’s the thunderbolt – 15% of the sample never used search at all!

So how are these people using the web? Well, for email of course, but many must be largely relying on the links provided by their home page portal to navigate.The relatively low proportion of time spent on search does not in any way reduce its significance, however. Indeed it acts as a choke point between a user’s known area of the web and the voyage of discovery that is the huge "unknown" area of the user’s web experience.

In the wider sense, however, this correlates to Receptional’s report suggesting that people are starting to search the web in different ways, using RSS to bring their own newsfeeds in to their home pages, using blogs and sites belonging to "trusted" friends or businesses to support their voyage of discovery.