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Friday, January 4, 2019

Three Types of Web Search - And a Strategy for Conquering the Difficult One

In A Taxonomy of Web Search Andrei Broder, a noted scholar in the field of web search, classified web search into three categories. Those being navigational, informational, and transactional.

When Broder was writing in 2002 navigational referred to a quest to immediately reach a particular website. Today, thanks to services like Google Maps, navigational search could also refer to a search for a specific physical location.

Transactional search is a search that is intended to end with the searcher taking an action like downloading a specific file, purchasing a specific product, or booking a hotel room. Search engines like Google, Bing, and increasingly, Alexa, are optimized to help you make a transactional search as quickly as possible. Transactional queries are the easiest to monetize as evidenced by the $40.6 billion spent on search advertising in 2017.

An informational search is one conducted for the purpose of finding information that one thinks is present somewhere on the Web. Informational searches are the most difficult and time-consuming of the three types of searches. It’s informational searches that will lead some students to declare, “Google has nothing about this!”

What Makes Informational Searches Difficult?
Informational searches are difficult for students because unlike a navigational or transactional search, there often isn’t a clear end point or a definitive answer. The exception to that pattern being queries like “when was Jimmy Carter President of the United States?”

Search becomes a thought process as much as a technical process when students venture into conducting informational searches. To conduct a good informational search students have to set aside the expectation that they will find what they are looking for in the first search results page that they see. In fact, what they’re looking for might not appear on the first ten search results pages to appear. But those first search results pages and the web pages within those results can provide them with information that is valuable in refining their searches.

Formulating an Informational Search Strategy
The first step in helping students formulate an informational search strategy is to have them specifically identify what it is that they want to know and why they want to know it (no, “because Mr. Byrne said I had to write about it” is not an acceptable answer). Much like forming a thesis statement, forming a good search query should take some thought and revision. And like a thesis, there may be multiple revisions and changes in direction until the process is completed.

When a student says he is searching for “more information about the Civil War” ask him to identify what about the Civil War he wants to know more about. If replies with, “anything” then ask him to specifically identify what he already knows and to conduct a search for more information about one of those things he has specifically identified. This is where the list strategy becomes a valuable part of the search process.

This was an excerpt from a book that I have been working on for the last fifteen months. I'm getting close to finishing it.