How do Consumers Form Online Search Queries? The Importance of Activation Probabilities between Queries and Results

Posted: 18 Oct 2015 Last revised: 4 Sep 2019

See all articles by Jia Liu

Jia Liu

Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST) - HKUST Business School

Olivier Toubia

Columbia Business School - Marketing

Date Written: June 30, 2017

Abstract

We explore how consumers form online search queries, given their content preferences. In particular, we explore the role of activation probabilities from queries to results, i.e., the probability that a certain query will retrieve certain content. Using secondary data from Google, we first show that by leveraging activation probabilities, i.e., by formulating shorter queries that do not contain all the terms they are interested in, consumers may actually reach desirable content more efficiently. This phenomenon is consistent with the robust empirical finding that users tend to form very short queries. Second, using experimental data we show that consumers have some ability to formulate queries that leverage activation probabilities. We also report some secondary field data that is consistent with consumers leveraging activation probabilities. Third, using primary data we show that consumers' beliefs on activation probabilities are biased upwards, and that they are not asymmetric enough. Our findings suggest that consumers strategically formulate queries that are more likely to activate the content they are searching for, rather than merely being similar to that content.

Keywords: online search queries, consumer search, content preferences, digital marketing

JEL Classification: M31

Suggested Citation

Liu, Jia and Toubia, Olivier, How do Consumers Form Online Search Queries? The Importance of Activation Probabilities between Queries and Results (June 30, 2017). Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 15-91. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2675331 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2675331

Jia Liu (Contact Author)

Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST) - HKUST Business School ( email )

Clear Water Bay
Hong Kong

Olivier Toubia

Columbia Business School - Marketing ( email )

New York, NY 10027
United States

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