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Searchers Use Titles To Determine Relevance

Chris Richardson
Staff Writer
Published: 2005-06-10

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When using a search engine, what helps you determine whether or not a listing, paid or organic, is relevant to your search? Is it result descriptions or is it the title of the item being listed...

Bernard Jansen and Marc Resnick, assistant professors at Pennsylvania State and Florida International University respectively, posed these same questions in a recent study titled, Examining Searcher Perceptions of and Interactions with Sponsored Results.

Searchers Use Titles To Determine Relevance
The study attempts to determine what criteria searchers use to determine result relevancy and whether or not they are biased against sponsored listings. Concerning the bias portion of the study, the researchers determined that users do indeed avoid sponsored listings, stemming from preconceived notions concerning paid link relevance.

However, when these same paid listing doubters were shown the landing page of a sponsored link, they discovered it was in fact relevant to their query, which lead Jansen and Resnick to the following conclusion:

Thus, the mechanism through which sponsored links are selected for a search query is as effective at selecting sponsored Web sites as it is with selecting organic Web sites. This effectiveness needs to be leveraged in order to ensure that sponsored links achieve the marketing lead and attraction that are expected if the paid search market is to continue to expand.

While the research concerning the bias against paid listings produced interesting and perhaps known results, the study also yielded some insight into what searchers use to determine whether or not a listing, organic or paid, is relevant to their query.

For organic listings, searchers used a combination of listing Title and Summary to determine whether or not a result is relevant. For determining relevancy, Title is used 41.3% of the time, while the Summary is used with 42.4% frequency. When labeling a result as Not Relevant, searchers use a listing's title 59.6% of the time.

Interestingly enough, the position and labeling of sponsored listings was not cited as a reason for determining their relevancy. Paid listings, much like organic ones, have their relevancy determined by the listing's Summary (67.1%). Also like their organic counterparts, paid listing relevancy is predominantly determined by Title (56.2%).

The information revealed by the Jansen/Resnick report illustrates the importance of relevant content and title tags are to searchers. If you have a distinct title and description, users will recognize this and feel comfortable clicking the result link leading to your site.

This study also reinforces the belief that content is king (although relevant backlinks should be considered the king's army), and that searchers will feel secure when responding to well thought out descriptors.

For a thorough look at the Jansen/Resnick study, check their white paper (pdf).

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About the Author:
Chris Richardson is a search engine writer and editor for WebProNews. Visit WebProNews for the latest search news.

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