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Does anybody have any statistics as to how many people end up selecting an auto-suggestion versus typing their own search phrase when performing a search online with auto-suggestion capabilities? (whether Google or a website internal search)

Obviously it might have to do with the quality of the auto-suggestions, and thus figures will differ whether we're talking about Google (assumption is that suggestions are pretty good) or a random website (assumption is that suggestions aren't as good), but I'd like to get an idea of how inclined to using auto-suggestions people usually are.

I could find existing questions on the net, but unfortunately no answers: http://www.quora.com/Google/How-many-people-use-Google-Suggest

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It's going to be tricky to answer because autosuggestions (particularly in google) become autocomplete the more letters you type. So if you're interested in 'FISHING' and you start typing F-I-S-H-I-N it's going to suggest FISHING anyway, so users might just click that instead of typing the last G. That way it's hard to quantify whether it's autosuggest that's working and suggesting something or whether it's just working as an autocomplete instead. –  JonW Dec 3 '13 at 14:25
    
In my case I consider auto-complete and auto-suggestion to be the same: it's about users selecting something that's proposed to them instead of typing something of their own, thus reducing the variety of searches. I'm in charge of keyword analysis on a website but the 300K different monthly searches make it very difficult, as advanced text analytic is required to group searches by themes and highlight pain points/areas of interest. Introducing auto-suggestion will help us, but I'm wondering how much, hence the question. –  user359650 Dec 3 '13 at 15:30

1 Answer 1

Apparently a research study done on the effectiveness of autocomplete and auto suggestions in a library website shows that people do use it. To quote the research article

The study’s findings were consistent across both rounds of usability testing. Notable themes include using autocomplete to correct spelling on known-item searches (specific titles, authors, etc.), to build student confidence with an unfamiliar topic, to speed up the search process, to focus broad searches, and to augment search-term vocabulary. The study also details important student perceptions about autocomplete that can guide the implementation process in both library systems and instructional scenarios. These student perceptions include themes of autocomplete’s popularity, desire for local resource suggestions, various cosmetic page changes, and user perception of the value of autocomplete to their peers.

The article also states that autocomplete had the maximum value in these factors

  • Checking the spelling : As per the article, users often relied on autocomplete to check the spelling and to ensure they were on the right track. To quote the article

Correcting search-term spelling is a key way in which students chose to make use of the autocomplete feature. For known-item searches, all eight students in the second round of testing selected suggestions from auto-complete at least two times out of the three searches conducted. Of those eight students, four (50 percent) used auto-complete every time (three out of three opportunities), and four (50 percent) used it 67 percent of the time (two out of three opportunities). We found that of this latter group who only selected auto-complete suggestions two out of the three opportunities presented, three of them did in fact refer to the dropdown selections when typing their inquiries, but did not actively select these suggestions from the dropdown all three times.

In choosing to use autocomplete for spelling correction, one student noted that autocomplete was helpful “if you have an idea of a word but not how it’s spelled.

  • Locating known items : The study also states that autocomplete was significant when users knew what they were searching for but had a partial recollection of the item. To quote the article

Another significant use of the autocomplete feature was in cases where students were looking for a specific item but had only a partial citation. In one case, a student used autocomplete to find a specific course text by typing in the general topic (e.g., “Africa”) and then an author’s name that the course instructor had recommended. The Google implementation did an excellent job of combining these pieces of information into a list of actual book titles from which to choose. This finding also echoes those of White and Marchioni, who note that autocomplete “improved the quality of initial queries for both known item and exploratory tasks.

  • Speed : As expected speed was another significant factor which was emphasized on by the users in the study. To quote the article

The study also showed that speed is a factor in deciding when to use autocomplete functionality. Specifically, autocomplete should be implemented in a way in which they are not perceived as slowing down the search process. This includes having results displayed in a way that is easily ignored if students want to type in an entire search phrase themselves, and having the presentation and selection of search suggestions done in a way that is easy to read and quick to be selected. Autocomplete is perceived as a time-saver when clicking on an item will shorten the amount of typing students need to do. However, some students will ignore autocomplete altogether; they do this when they know what they want, and they feel that speed is compromised if they need to stop and look at the suggestions when they already know what they want to search. In the study, different participants would often cite speed as a reason for both selecting and not selecting an item for the same question, particularly with the known-item searches

  • Confidence: Confidence that the topic existed was another reason for people using autocomplete

“[Autocomplete is] an assurance that it [the research topic] is out there . . . you’re not the first person to look for it.”—student participant

There were multiple themes related to the concept of user confidence discovered in the study. First, some participants noted that when they see the suggestions provided by autocomplete it verifies that what they are searching is “real”—validating their research idea and giving them the sense that others have been successful previously searching for their topic

Hence though this is a case of a study done for a specific audience, it can very well be applied to other user bases where people are researching for content and are using the search to find it.

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Very helpful answer. Thank you. –  GollyJer Dec 5 '13 at 21:35

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