What Do Dolphins Eat? Lessons in How Children Conduct Google Searches

Posted by Hunter Rimmer on Sep 28th, 2018

In light of Google’s 20th birthday, I happened to stumbled upon a bit of interesting research that provides insight into how children search the web for information. As a group of digital strategists, it goes without saying that we’re invested in understanding how all people use search as it shapes our role as marketers daily.

Whether you grew up with Google or came to know the search engine as an adult, the next generation of searchers is here and we’re all curious how they will change the search landscape.

You may be thinking…what exactly can children teach us about information seekers as a whole? Well, a lot actually. With varying comfort levels and search strategies, these kids were given the question: “What do dolphins eat?”, and tasked with finding an answer on their own. The study highlights some common challenges children and likely some adults face when completing search queries.

Believing All Search Suggestions are Answers

While it's easy to always assume Google knows exactly what you’re searching for, simply relying on search suggestions for answers is not best practice. In this case, the kids would start to type in some variation like “wat do dolfin eat” only to find suggestions such as, “dolphins eat cats” or “dolphins eat humans” and would turn to the researcher with wide eyes and question if in fact this could be a true answer.  

The kids often turned to Google’s related searches at the bottom of the SERP for answers as well. We know that these are other questions rather than answers, but many kids likely scrolled to this section, saw the word dolphin repeatedly, missed the context and formed a conclusion based on what they saw there.

what do dolphins eat?

Struggling With Search Confidence

Because many younger children are less confident with their reading and writing skills they often result to image search first. They would head straight to Google’s image search, typically just type “dolfin”, and then scroll until they found a picture of a dolphin eating some sort of fish or another animal. This is what Google researchers classified as a visual searcher, which is quite interesting as it places trust in the hands of the searcher, reassuring that what you see with your own eyes must be true. In a generation inundated with fake news, this type of search strategy may prove more valuable than thought. Although it may be a popular method for kids, it's more common than you might imagine among adults too, highlighting the importance of optimizing images on your website so they appear in search.

Relying on Google’s OneBox

As you could have guessed most children went straight to the OneBox for answers, which is likely how most everyone searches these days (us too). However, in this case, some of the children did not read the complete text and instead relied only on the bolded words, saying aloud, “dolphins eat fish, herring, and killer whales...”. Confused at the thought that dolphins eat killer whales, the children knew they were led astray but weren't sure what had gone wrong.  Google was merely transitioning from listing what dolphins eat to talking about what killer whales eat but they missed this context and reported these answers to the researchers.

Even though Google is constantly improving the way the OneBox delivers information, more fact-based search queries like these draw attention to the fact that they are often called upon to be the so-called arbiter of truth.

It may seem unlikely that kids could teach us a thing or two about searching the internet, but this bit of adventurous research makes you think about the different ways people seek information and how that may develop over time.

Whether young or old, WDC analyzes the way all people use the web to find information and continuously adapts to changes in search behavior. Interested in knowing how your customers use search to find your business? Let us help!