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Yahoo! Clues: A New Source for Search Data
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Posted On November 29, 2010


Yes, Yahoo! now uses Microsoft’s Bing to power its web searching, but the company continues to make the case that it will continue to innovate in web search. Yahoo! has been adding new features and interfaces to a variety of its search products. One recent example is Yahoo! Clues, which launched in mid-November 2010. While it is just in Beta and in its early stages, Clues offer unique information not readily available from other sources.

Yahoo! Clues presents information about popular searches that have been done by the “millions of people who use Yahoo! to search each day.” Similar to Google Trends and Google Insights for Search, Clues has both similar and unique data points. The data available includes search volume, searcher demographics (age group, gender, and income), searcher location, search flow, and related searches. This free tool can be used to get a sense of the types of data available to advertisers about search patterns and demographics.

The basic search screen at Clues has two search boxes. The second box is used to compare two queries, so only the first box needs to be used. After entering a query, just tab down to the next box or click the “Discover” button to see results. At this point, data is available from three time periods: today, past 7 days, and past 30 days. Having been available longer, Google Trends has data back to 2004, but it only goes up to the last 30 days (or past 7 at Insights for Search). So Clues offers more recent search activity than Trends.

At this early stage, not all Clues queries have data. Barry Schwartz at SearchEngineLand reports that Yahoo! hopes “to expand the number of terms included over time.” For those that do have results, the data sections are all displayed graphically and most have percentages. For example, check search trends comparing searches for ‘kindle’ to ‘ipad.’

The search volume chart at the top shows a peak right around Black Friday. According to Brian Theodore, director of search products at Yahoo!, “The information shown in this graph is based on a 100 point scale, with 100 representing the time over the past month with the highest search volume.” With two searches, only the busier search term’s graph goes to 100.

Next comes the demographics, data which is not available from Google Trends or Insight. Clues shows age group and gender breakdowns so that with the Kindle and iPad search, it is quick to see that fewer men than women are searching for Kindle and that the 35-44 age group has the highest percentage of searches for both products. Similarly the income groupings for these searches are primarily in the under $25K and the $25K-$50K income tier. Yahoo! notes that “Clues aggregates age and gender information across Yahoo! Search” and that the income tiers are assumed, based on general ZIP code census data. “Clues calculates this category using anonymous aggregated ZIP code information from Yahoo! Search matched against per capita income data from the U.S. Census Bureau.”

The demographics data can be fascinating to browse. The graphical presentation makes it easy to comprehend without serious number crunching, and Clues’ comparison of two searches makes it easy to spot recent trends and changes. How reliable the demographics are, especially the income, is an open question. In comparing Google Trends to Yahoo! Clues, blogger Erik Wagner questions the accuracy of the demographics, “The income data can be wildly inaccurate” and “I do not buy into the demographic information.”

Where the searches are occurring is easier to trust given the many developments in geolocation over the past few years. In the “by location” section, the focus at this point is just on U.S. data (unlike Google Trends which offers worldwide data). Yahoo! offers both a map view of the areas in the country with the most search activity along with the top ten states. As the Yahoo! Clues help page describes it, “To avoid the most populated states always claiming top spots, Yahoo! Clues factors out relative population differences between states and shows a ranked list of the top 10. A 100-point scale is to represent the data, with 100 representing the highest concentration of searches, and 0 representing the lowest.” Clicking on one of the top ten states zooms in the map and then lists the top ten cities within that state. The spots on the map are not clickable but highlight the cities within the U.S. or a state that have been most active.

Search Flow is Yahoo!’s name for its sections that display previous and subsequent queries. Search Flow is unique information not available from Google. It is shown below the location area and also when mousing over some of the demographic data. For most searches, up to five previous and subsequent queries are shown and can help users see how others’ sequence of searches progress. For example, looking at the search flow for an ‘mla’ search, shows a preceding search of ‘mla citing’ and following searches of ‘mla style’ (as well as ‘mls’ and ‘apa’).

Not only is search flow shown in the “Search Flow” section, but it is also available from some of the demographics sections. If a small, triangular arrow is shown when mousing over the demographics or income section, just click on the date to see more search flow details. On the iPad search, clicking the 35 to 44 age group results in more specific search flow information such as men from age 35 to 44 who searched for ‘ipad’ also looked at ‘blackberry ipad’ while women from age 35 to 44 also looked at ‘ipad kindle.’

One last bit of Clues information is at the very bottom of the display as “related searches.” As Yahoo! explains them, these are “most common related search terms across Yahoo! Search . . . not limited to the user search patterns displayed in Search Flow.”

While similar to Google Trends, Yahoo! Clues provides additional information, and about a different set of searchers. The search flow and demographics can reveal aspects of searcher behavior and differences that might otherwise be unavailable to us. As Tara Calishain blogs about it at ResearchBuzz, “I encourage you to play with Yahoo! Clues. Think about how you would approach a search problem, plug in your query, and see how other demographic groups are handling it. Warning: this can turn into a real timesink!”

For anyone researching the searching behavior of Americans, the age and gender differences with interest in certain products, or the way in which searchers adapt their search strategies, sink some time into Yahoo! Clues to see what might be discovered.


Greg R. Notess is the internet columnist for ONLINE and the author of Teaching Web Search Skills (www.notess.com/teaching) and SearchEngineShowdown.com.

Email Greg R. Notess
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