The Power of Defaults
Jakob Nielsen comments on a recent study of click through data [pdf] with his post "The Power of Default Values". There's nothing too shocking in the study's findings, but it does provide a little food for thought.
The found that 42% of users clicked the #1 result on SERP's, and only 8% clicked on the #2 result. More importantly though, when the top two results were secretly switched, 34% of users still clicked the top result, and 12% clicked the #2 listing.
This study goes far to address why users tend to click on the top hit. There are two plausible explanations:
- Search engines are so good at judging relevancy that they almost always place the best hit on top.
- Users click the top hit not because it's any better, but simply because it's first. This might be due to sheer laziness (after all, you start from the top) or because users assume the search engine places the best hit on top, whether that's actually true or not.
As the study shows, the answer is clearly a little of both.
And on a lighter note, they tested relevancy (yes, we know that's virtually impossible...) and found the following:
On average, the top hit in the original search listings was judged as being the most relevant 36% of the time; the second hit was most relevant 24% of the time; and the two hits were equally relevant 40% of the time. In other words, the search engine tended to be right, but was wrong one-fourth of the time. (If the two hits are equally relevant, it doesn't matter which one is placed on top, so I counted these as being right.)
Given how often the search engine was wrong, users clicked the top hit far too frequently. And when the two top hits were swapped, too few users changed their behavior. In other words, we can conclude that there is a strong bias in favor of clicking the top link, though not so strong that link quality is irrelevant.