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Search engine rank and click rates

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Saturday August 12, 2006 )

AOL’s faux pas is something to think about the next time you’re using a search engine and for those who have downloaded the file, they have a big responsibility on their shoulders in having that data. It definitely brings to the forefront how much information search engines may have about us as individuals and it really concerns me that governments also want to get that information.

It’s certainly a great deal of trust we place in these companies, and probably somewhat blindly.

Still, I’m very curious as to what sorts of other patterns those who are studying the information discover :). That dataset is a veritable gold mine of information for those involved with ethical search engine optimization and content development… but unfortunately it will also be so for search engine spammers and others with darker motives.

Related:

Search engine optimization tutorials and articles

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When AOL Research somewhat foolishly left an archive file of approximately 20 million AOL Search queries generated by 650,000 users in a publicly accessible area recently, enterprising search engine optimization professionals were quick to grab a copy of the file for analysis

… and some very interesting data was revealed.

For instance, one person who processed around 80% of the data (I believe the archive was around 2 gigabytes uncompressed) found that:

– Over 46% of searches resulted in no organic listings being clicked. I haven’t been able to find out what percentage of that 46% may have clicked on a sponsored (PPC or otherwise) listing; or even if this information was available in the dataset.

– Around 22% clicked on the 1st site ranked
– 6.4% click on the second
– 4.5% clicked on the third ranked site

..then gradually decreasing to just over 1.5% on the 10th ranked site.

After the first page, the clicks dropped dramatically; for example, only .35% clicked on the 11th ranked site. It demonstrates the importance of a top 5 listing and the huge difference between being ranked no.1 and no.2 in terms of traffic that can be generated. Bear in mind though that this is based on AOL Search and AOL users searching for the most part :). I guess the figures could be quite different on other engines.

Regarding the accidental release of the information itself, while I’ve been sorely tempted to grab a copy of the file for research purposes, it somehow just doesn’t feel right to do so.

I’m not preaching the high moral ground here at all, it’s just that the information does contain patterns of queries that could make it relatively easy to track down a person.

For example, people often search on their own name. The file that contained the information assigned an anonymous ID to all queries – but it was common to the user. So, it would be a relatively simple task to track all the queries associated with that person’s name which would perhaps reveal other identifying material. Some people are even known to try searching for their credit card numbers as a way of finding out if their cards have been compromised. Definitely not a wise thing to do, especially with some engines storing user searches *indefinitely*.

AOL’s faux pas is something to think about the next time you’re using a search engine and for those who have downloaded the file, they have a big responsibility on their shoulders in having that data. It definitely brings to the forefront how much information search engines may have about us as individuals and it really concerns me that governments also want to get that information.

It’s certainly a great deal of trust we place in these companies, and probably somewhat blindly.

Still, I’m very curious as to what sorts of other patterns those who are studying the information discover :). That dataset is a veritable gold mine of information for those involved with ethical search engine optimization and content development… but unfortunately it will also be so for search engine spammers and others with darker motives.

Related:

Search engine optimization tutorials and articles



 

 
3 comments for Search engine rank and click rates
  1. If you’re curious as to what sorts of other patterns can be found, I’ve posted some figures to my website (and will continue working on this). :-)

    Comment by Danny — August 12, 2006 @ 5:46 am

  2. Hi Danny, thanks for sharing your research into the AOL data; some very interesting results.

    Just out of curiosity, did you give the card companies the heads up about those numbers you found so they can contact the owners? I hope someone has. Like I said in the post, it’s a big responsibility to have all that data at your fingertips.

    Comment by Michael Bloch — August 12, 2006 @ 4:59 pm

  3. Just a side note:

    “AOL chief technology officer Maureen Govern, who oversaw the division responsible for accidentally releasing search data for more than a half a million Internet users, has resigned from the company, according to an internal company memorandum”

    http://money.cnn.com/2006/08/21/news/companies/aol.reut/index.htm

    Comment by Michael Bloch — August 21, 2006 @ 5:51 pm

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