A recently published paper has been a bit of an eye-opener: “Eye tracking in MSN Search: Investigating snippet length, target position and task types

It examines how people use search and highlights two main types:

  • Navigational – where a user knows where they want to get to (e.g. a hotel, an organisation) and use the web to find the homepage
  • Informational – where a user has a question and needs to use the web to find an answer.

Form the above two descriptions I would see TRIP as being almost exclusively in the informational sector.

The researchers methodology used eye tracking to see where people looked on a search page and the effect of different variables on the search speed and accuracy. One feature they examined was the length of a snippet. The snippet being (typically) the 1-2 lines of text that typically appear in search engine results below the title. NOTE: TRIP does not have a snippet feature.

Without going on too much (read the article for more info) they found that, in informational tasks, the longer the snippet the quicker and more accurate the search. The main downside being that the longer the snippets the more users had to scroll to see the results.

Makes me think that we need to introduce a snippet function. Is this ‘Evidence-based search’?