Are we getting lazier when typing in our search queries?


I remember the good old days of search, when you could run 10,000s of longtailed keywords, all with a low $0.05 CPC in the hope to mop up the small amount of searches with little or no competition. It was short lived, it didn’t take long for the engines to put a stop to this by increasing the influence broad match keywords have on the query and then to put the final nail in the coffin, Google introduced an impression threshold before your keyword becomes active, killing of the long tailed keyword all together in the exact form. But with the rapid advancement in mobile search and the ingrained instinct in humans to do a task with the least amount of effort, do we need to focus on longtailed keywords and are we getting lazier when typing in our search queries?

First Search Engines

The first “Internet Search Engine” of sorts has been widely credited to a group of Computer scientists from McGill University in Montreal in 1990. It was named Archie and its purpose was to search the file locations of all public FTP sites, creating a database of readable file names. This was quickly succeeded by Gopher in 1991 bringing efficiencies in the response of the program. The way queries were typed in was based on a command line format with minimal number of keywords only using head terms to base the search from. In the same context, when searching for files on your own computer using Microsoft Windows Search bar, we still remove ourselves from the use of natural language and type in head terms only.

Arrival of the modern day search engine

Once the internet hit the masses and the speed on returning results became almost irrelevant due to the lightning fast processing which could be achieved, we moved away from single head term keywords to more natural language such as “Best Laptop PC” or even “Which country has the highest population?” We have always been informed that the number of keywords and characters being typed into the search engines has been growing YoY as we try and refine our searches more and more and our own data has agreed with this statement.

But now mobile search is almost on a par with desktop searches, has this changed the way we search? When SMS Text first entered into the world and we had to write full sentences on a 10 digital pad, it didn’t take long for the majority of the population of all ages to adopt short had text language. Even with predicted text, this seemed the norm. Has this same logic applied to how we search on our mobile?

Analysis & Results

The beauty of working in search is that we have all this data at our fingertips to answer questions like this. Looking at search data only, across our whole portfolio, we averaged out the number of full words per impression and average number of characters per impression since 2007. We found that, as expected, the number of words and characters in a search query increased over time from 2.64 words (17.3 Characters) in 2007 to 2.88 (18.9 Characters) in 2012. In 2013, this suddenly dropped to 2.59 (15.8 Characters) and early signs on 2014 show the drop continuing.


We can also see that mobile & tablet searches started rapidly grew in 2013 and continuing into 2014.



Yes, we are becoming lazier at searching.

With the increase in mobile searches, we are finding the average number of words and characters have taken a slight decrease. As always, there have to be some considerations in the data set. We have analysed Google only using search query reports. We know that search query reports are not 100% accurate to the number of impressions served, so whatever filtering is applied to the report would have a skew on the results. How will this effect search strategies? At this stage, I predict little impact into the way you plan your search. Google have already moved the focus from building out long tail keywords and making strategies more reliant on broad matching on head terms to pick up traffic. As searches become more focused on head terms, competition and CPCs are expected to increase especially on mobile devices with less ad inventory per impression.

Finally, what does the future hold? Voice recognition within search has pretty much been around since the launch of mobile search. Google adopted this early into their Android devices, but take up has been low, partly due to the accuracy, but mainly due to the fact it looks about as cool as Bluetooth headsets in 2003. This could change if wearable tech takes off. I would expect searches to get longer again, exceeding the levels of 2012. How AdWords changes its search query relationship to broad matching is still a very big unknown.

Philip Pollock is Head of Paid Search Sydney for Resolution at OMD

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