Search and Wikipedia

Search is central to the Wikipedia experience – both as a way of reaching the website as well as discovering content on Wikipedia.  Several questions on the Readers Survey 2011 were aimed at understanding the search experiences across nations, languages, and devices. Here are some of the key insights about search from the study:


a. About half of our readers specifically look for Wikipedia in search engine results

Slightly over half of our readers (51%) said they specifically chose Wikipedia over other sources while searching the Internet because they trust it as a resource.  Naturally, this indicates that Wikipedia enjoys greater brand recall, and trust and credibility amongst these readers as a reliable source of online knowledge. India (72%), Russia (68%) and Italy (60%) reported the highest number of respondents who chose this option. On the other hand, about 41% of our respondents said they chose Wikipedia over other sources because it was on top of the search results. For this set of readers, Wikipedia depends on search engines to drive traffic to the website. These numbers were especially high in Japan (59%), France (51%) and Australia (50%).  In addition, 8% of readers said they choose Wikipedia due to other reasons.

Q. What is the main reason you choose Wikipedia over other sources of online information?

b. Search is the most desired improvement to Wikipedia

About 32% of our readers said they were extremely/very likely (score of 9+ out of 10) to use Wikipedia more if the search functionality was improved. Better search emerged as the most desired feature, over others like more multimedia content, a better mobile site, a more simplistic design, and so on.

Q. How likely would each of the following changes make you use Wikipedia more? – Wikipedia search was better (by region): Top 2 box (9-10)

We found an interesting pattern – emerging countries  reported a much higher desirability for better search: Brazil (53%), Egypt (58%), India (41%), Mexico (55%) and Russia (60%). Meanwhile, European nations (22%) expressed significantly less interest in better search. Similarly, in the ethnographic research we conducted in India and Brazil, several respondents told us that there was a need to improve search. Some of the search features desired by these readers were: auto-completion for search terms and better keyword search for both Portuguese and Indic languages, and also transliteration plugins for Indic languages.

c. Readers speaking Portuguese and Arabic are much more desiring of better search

Across the entire sample, we observed differences in the importance of better search capabilities. The relatively less mature language Wikipedias expressed a much higher desire for better search, which is consistent with our findings in section (b).

A10a. How likely would each of the following changes make you use Wikipedia more? – Wikipedia search was better (by language): Top 2 box (9-10)

Arabic (56%) and Portuguese (51%) speakers assigned much more importance to search – it is an important concern for the Wikipedias in these two languages. About a third of the respondents for both of these languages said they very were extremely likely (10 out of 10) to use Wikipedia more if search was improved.

d. Search on mobile platforms does not perform as well as desktops

Readers did not rate search on the mobile website as favorably as its desktop cousin. While about 50% of the respondents rated the desktop search a 9+ on 10, only about 15% awarded a 9+ to mobile search. On average, mobile search scored about 24% lower than desktop search. The difference between search performance between mobile and desktop platforms was most pronounced in Egypt (33%) and Spain (30%). Search on mobile phones is constrained by lack of screen real estate as well as unavailability of full-size keyboards, which presents challenges to quickly finding relevant content. We recently launched the beta mobile site, and are looking at new ways of improving the mobile Wikipedia experience – not only making search better, but also introducing features that enable contributing to the website. You can find out more information about our mobile product roadmap here. A comparison of how readers access Wikipedia across devices points to a marked difference between desktop/laptop devices and mobile phones. Significantly fewer readers go directly to the website on mobile phones (27%), which means that a lot of them arrive via search engines. Not surprisingly, there is no significant difference between desktop and laptop access.

C6. How do you access Wikipedia from the following devices? (note: different bases for desktop/laptop/mobile)

India, Egypt and Russia (all 37%) report significantly higher readers that go directly to our website even on mobile devices. The ethnographic research that we conducted in India suggested support for going to the Wikipedia website via a mobile browser versus using a search engine. On the other hand, Japan records significantly fewer visits to the website, even on desktops (26%). We are committed to improving the reading experience – including search, for our readers across devices. Watch this space for updates about new features as they are introduced.

Mani Pande, Head of Global Development Research

Ayush Khanna, Data Analyst, Global Development

We recently conducted an online survey of Wikipedia readers, limited to 250 participants each in 16 countries. This is the second in a series of blog posts summarizing our findings. If you are interested, you can find out more about the methodology of the survey here.