How users read search results

Very interesting research from Microsoft on how users read search results (by way of Greg Linden):

Microsoft Researchers Nick Craswell, Onno Zoeter, Michael Taylor and Bill Ramsey wrote “An Experimental Comparison of Click Position-Bias Models” (PDF) for WSDM 2008. The work looks at models for how “the probability of click is influenced by … [the] position in the results page”.

The basic problem here is that just putting a search result high on the page tends to get it more clicks even if that search result is less relevant than ones below it. If you are trying to learn which results are relevant by looking at which ones get the most clicks, you need to model and then attempt to remove the position bias.

The authors conclude that a “cascade model” which assumes “that the user views search results from top to bottom, deciding whether to click each result before moving to the next” most closely fits searcher click behavior when they look at the top of the search results. However, their “baseline model” — which assumes “users look at all results and consider each on its merits, then decide which results to click” (that is, position does not matter) — seemed most accurate for items lower in the search results.

The authors say this suggests there may be “two modes of results viewing”, one where searchers click the first thing that looks relevant in the top results, but, if they fail to find anything good, they then shift to scanning all the results before clicking anything.

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