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The Cure for “Search Engine Fatigue”

October 23, 2007

In Greg Sterling’s blog today at Search Engine Land, he reports on a recent study that found 7 out of 10 Americans Experience “Search Engine Fatigue”. After reading his excerpts of the report, I’d define this phenomenon as “the frustration created when spending an inordinate amount of time searching and not finding what you were looking for“. Many respondents (78%) actually “wished for a search engine to be able to read their minds“.

Greg suggests that this is a strong argument for search personalization – which is a great idea for a sophisticated searcher. But, my first thought was more along the lines of “these people need to learn how to perform a search”. Some people are good at search – meaning, they can use a search engine, and most of time find what they’re looking for. They’ve learned how to use keywords, filter their searches and other tactics that many consider “advanced” techniques. But how does the average internet user learn to search and become better at it?

I made a quick visit to the top search engines – looking for a “How to Search” link. Surely, as with any good piece of software, there was a “Help” section, right? Maybe a tutorial of some kind – video or otherwise? First stop: Google. Anything? Nope. Yahoo? Not there either. MSN? Not even close. Ask? Nah.

Of course, there are search tips – but they are buried. If you click on Google’s “Advanced Search” link, then “Advanced Search Tips”, then “Basics of Search”, you will actually finally find a page featuring exactly what I’m suggesting. But why bury this information? All the engines are aware of the limits of their audience, as usability and search trend data shows how unfamiliar typical users are with how search engines work. So, why is there no simple “demo” available right from the homepage of every major search engine?

Search engines should treat their interface like the software it is and provide their users with a “How to Search” link to a simple, readable tutorial; clearly available from the homepage. In my opinion, without this, “Search Engine Fatigue” is going to continue to be a trend.