Submitting queries to search engines has become a major way for consumers to search for information and products. The massive amount of search query data available today has the potential to provide valuable information on consumer preferences. In order to unlock this potential, it is necessary to understand how consumers translate their preferences into search queries. Strategic consumers should attempt to maximize the information content of the search results, conditional on a set of beliefs on how the search engine operates. We show using field data that optimal queries may exclude some of the terms that are more relevant to the consumer, potentially at the expense of less relevant terms. In two incentive-aligned lab experiments, we find that consumers have some ability to strategically omit relevant terms when forming their search queries, but that their search queries tend to be suboptimal. In a third incentive-aligned experiment, we find that consumers’ beliefs on how the search engine operates tend to be inaccurate. Overall, our results are consistent with consumers being strategic when formulating their queries, but acting on incorrect beliefs on how the search engine operates.
Liu, Jia, and Olivier Toubia. "Search Query Formation by Strategic Consumers." Quantitative Marketing and Economics 18 (2020): 155-194.
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