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Almost 30% of People Redo or Refine Google Searches, Study Says

This suggests that answers weren't effectively percolating to the top on their first try.

Google search results page on a mobile phone
Google Search on smartphone.
Taylor Martin/CNET

Almost 30% of people are having to redo their Google searches, either by refining or extending queries, according to research published earlier this month by SEMRush, an online marketing software company.

SEMRush took data from 20,000 anonymous users who made 455,368 unique searches. It then looked at how long it took them to make a subsequent action. For over 70% of users, it took less than 15 seconds to make a secondary click, meaning they most likely found the website or answer they were looking for. Almost 30% of users, however, were refining, redoing or extending their searches in some way, suggesting that for some, answers weren't effectively percolating to the top.

This 30% number comes from 9.7% of users who engaged in a "Google Click," meaning they clicked on images or something in a carousel after making a query. For these people, they may have actually found what they were looking for. Another 17.9% of users made modifications to "Google Keyword," or ways to modify their original query. This totals to 27.6%, which was then rounded up by SEMRush.

Satisfaction wasn't something measured in this study, just click behaviors after making a Google Search. It's possible a person could have been happy with an initial result and might have wanted to rephrase to investigate further.

Keyword changes happened more often on mobile, at 29.3% versus 17.9% on desktop, SEMRush found. It suggests people in need of quick information might be looking for answers on Google rather than clicking through to a website. Since the study didn't survey users about their experience, it's impossible to say exactly why someone on mobile is more often redoing or refining their searches. Typos on a small screen could be a culprit.

On desktop, the study also found that 25.6% of results were "zero clicks." This means a person didn't click on a link after making a query. It could mean they refined their search, or that they found the answer they were looking for without clicking on a link to a website. The latter could spell trouble for the billions of sites that rely on traffic to bring in ad sales -- while less clicks is better for people looking for quick answers, it's detrimental to the many news and information sites creating that content.

"Google Search sends billions of clicks to websites every day, and we've sent more traffic to the open web every year since Google was first created," said Danny Sullivan, Google's public liaison for Search. "It's not unusual that people conduct a search without knowing exactly what they are looking for, then refine that search after seeing results and our refinement options (like related searches) to ultimately find what they need."

Complaints over Search's faltering reliability continue to come up in online discussions and articles. From Reddit threads to pieces in The Atlantic, people say they're fighting a battle against websites trying to game Google's search engine optimization and the company's own system of filtering results. Search also remains Google's most valuable product, with it controlling over 92% of online search market share, helping the company drive ad revenue.

Some users say they're now using short-form video platform TikTok to find the answers they're looking for instead of Google. It might be why Google is integrating more TikTok-like features in Search and why it spent $100 million to buy an AI avatar startup.

Alphabet, Google's parent company, reported $69 billion in revenue this past quarter, with $39.5 billion coming from "Google Search and Other." Even then, Google's earnings came short of analyst estimates.