Randomised Controlled Trial of the Usability of Major Search Engines (Google, Yahoo! and Bing) When using Ambiguous Search Queries

Wynand Nel, Lizette de Wet, Robert Schall

Abstract

Performing digital searches, like searching the World Wide Web (WWW), is part of everyday life with the Internet being the primary source of information. The enormous size of the WWW led to the development of search engines, and many researchers use search engines to find specific information. Users generally prefer short queries, potentially causing ambiguity so that the search engine returns a surfeit of results. In this study, the current usability state of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo! and Bing) when ambiguous search queries are used was investigated. Participants completed pre and post-test questionnaires, including a System Usability Scale (SUS) questionnaire during a usability test. Each participant also performed different searches om three different occasions using three ambiguous search terms (shoot, divide and seal) in a randomised order according to a Graeco-Latin Square design. The study results suggest that the participants perceived the usability of Google to be the highest, followed by Yahoo! and Bing. Tasks that involved navigating more web pages in search of an answer were more difficult, and the order in which the tasks was completed did not have an impact on the results.

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