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A taxonomy of web search

Andrei Broder
IBM Research
(Most of the work presented here was done while the author was with the AltaVista corporation.
Classic IR (information retrieval) is inherently predicated on users searching for information, the so called “information need”. But the need behind a web search is often not informational — it might be
navigational (give me the url of the site I want to reach) or transactional (show me sites where I can
perform a certain transaction, e.g. shop, download a file, or find a map). We explore this taxonomy
of web searches and discuss how global search engines evolved to deal with web-specific needs.
1 Introduction
A central tenet of classical information retrieval is that the user is driven by an information need.
Schneiderman, Byrd, and Croft [SBC97] define information need as “the perceived need for
information that leads to someone using an information retrieval system in the first place.” But the
intent behind a web search is often not informational — it might be navigational (show me the url of
the site I want to reach) or transactional (show me sites where I can perform a certain transaction,
e.g., shop, download a file, or find a map). In fact as we show later, informational queries constitute
less than 50% of web searches.
The main aim of this paper is to point out this difference and introduce and analyze a taxonomy of
web searches. Secondly, we show how search engines evolved to deal with these web-specific needs.
The remainder of the paper is organized as follows: in section 2 we discuss the classic model for
information retrieval; section 3 introduces a taxonomy of web searches; section 4 presents some
statistics extracted from AltaVista surveys and logs regarding the prevalence of various types of
searches; section 5 analyzes the evolution of search engines in light of this taxonomy; section 6
discusses some related work; finally, section 7 draws certain conclusions and points to some further
directions for research.
2. The classic model for information retrieval
We start from the basic model used in many standard information retrieval references textbooks, for
instance, van Rijsbergen [R79]. See also [BK94] and references therein for a detailed discussion.
Essentially, a user, driven by an information need, constructs a query in some query language. The
query is submitted to a system that selects from a collection of documents (corpus), those documents
that match the query as indicated by certain matching rules. A query refinement process might be…




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