Search Query Formation by Strategic Consumers
20 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2018
Date Written: March 9, 2018
Submitting queries to search engines has become a major way in which consumers search for information and products. The massive amount of search query data available today has the potential to provide valuable information on consumer preferences. In order to unlock this potential, it is necessary to understand how consumers translate their preferences into search queries. In this paper, we argue that if consumers are strategic, then their search queries should not be a direct representation of their preferences: strategic consumers should formulate queries that are likely to retrieve the content they are searching for, rather than being merely similar to that content. We present secondary and primary evidence that is consistent with a strategic view of query formation. Using secondary field data, we illustrate the benefits for consumers from strategically formulating queries which contain only a subset of the terms they are interested in, but which are effective at retrieving other terms of interest. Our incentive-aligned lab experiment confirms that consumers have at least some ability to be strategic when formulating search queries.
Keywords: search engines, search models
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