What Do Dolphins Eat? Lessons from How Kids Search

What Do Dolphins Eat? Lessons from How Kids Search

Kids may search differently than adults, but there are some interesting insights from how they use Google that can help deepen our understanding of searchers in general. I want to talk about some surprising and interesting and a few funny facts that I learnt when I was reading some research that Google did about how kids search for information. They found a lot of kids were obviously distracted, and I think as adults this is something that we can relate to. To start off with, she was just answering this question because I had asked her to. Search suggestions are answers But some common misconceptions they found some kids thought that the search suggestions, so the drop-down as you start typing, were the answers, which is bit problematic. But kids in particular — I mean, I think this is true of all users — didn't necessarily read the directions on the page, didn't read that they were related searches, just saw these things that said "dolphin" a lot and started reading out those. But I think this is kind of closely related to this kind of thing, where you see kids get stuck on these kind of queries. It's quite interesting, because as you work through trying to get the answer, you'll find search results that appear to give the answer. Kids get comfortable with how they search – even if it's wrong So we're going to wrap up with possibly my favorite anecdote of the user research that these guys did, which was that they said some of these kids, somewhere in this developing stage, get very attached to searching in one particular way. My favorite example was this one child who apparently looked for information about both dolphins and the vice president of the United States on the SpongeBob SquarePants website, which I mean maybe it works for dolphins, but I'm guessing there isn't an awful lot of VP information.

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Kids may search differently than adults, but there are some interesting insights from how they use Google that can help deepen our understanding of searchers in general. Comfort levels with particular search strategies, reading only the bold words, taking search suggestions and related searches as answers — there’s a lot to dig into. In this week’s slightly different-from-the-norm Whiteboard Friday, we welcome the fantastic Will Critchlow to share lessons from how kids search.

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Video Transcription

Hi, everyone. I’m Will Critchlow, founder and CEO of Distilled, and this week’s Whiteboard Friday is a little bit different. I want to talk about some surprising and interesting and a few funny facts that I learnt when I was reading some research that Google did about how kids search for information. So this isn’t super actionable. This is not about tactics of improving your website particularly. But I think we get some insights — they were studying kids aged 7 to 11 — by looking at how kids interact. We can see some reflections or some ideas about how there might be some misconceptions out there about how adults search as well. So let’s dive into it.

What do dolphins eat?

I’ve got this “What do dolphins eat?” because this was the first question that the researchers gave to the kids to say sit down in front of a search box, go. They tell this little anecdote, a little bit kind of soul-destroying, of this I think it was a seven-year-old child who starts typing dolphin, D-O-L-F, and then presses Enter, and it was like sadly there’s no dolphins, which hopefully they found him some dolphins. But a lot of the kids succeeded at this task.

Different kinds of searchers

The researchers divided the ways that the kids approached it up into a bunch of different categories. They found that some kids were power searchers. Some are what they called “developing.” They classified some as “distracted.” But one that I found fascinating was what they called visual searchers. I think they found this more commonly among the younger kids who were perhaps a little bit less confident reading and writing. It turns out that, for almost any question you asked them, these kids would turn first to image search.

So for this particular question, they would go to image search, typically just type “dolphin” and then scroll and go looking for pictures of a dolphin eating something. Then they’d find a dolphin eating a fish, and they’d turn to the researcher and say “Look, dolphins eat fish.” Which, when you think about it, I quite like in an era of fake news. This is the kids doing primary research. They’re going direct to the primary source. But it’s not something that I would have ever really considered, and I don’t know if you would. But hopefully this kind of sparks some thought and some insights and discussions at your end. They found that there were some kids who pretty much always, no matter what you asked them, would always go and look for pictures.

Kids who were a bit more developed, a bit more confident in their reading and writing would often fall into one of these camps where they were hopefully focusing on the attention. They found a lot of kids were obviously distracted, and I think as adults this is something that we can relate to. Many of the kids were not really very interested in the task at hand. But this kind of path from distracted to developing to power searcher is an interesting journey that I think totally applies to grown-ups as well.

In practice: [wat do dolfin eat]

So I actually, after I read this paper, went and did some research on my kids. So my kids were in roughly this age range. When I was doing it, my daughter was eight and my son was five and a half. Both of them interestingly typed “wat do dolfin eat” pretty much like this. They both misspelled “what,” and they both misspelled “dolphin.” Google was fine with that. Obviously, these days this is plenty close enough to get the result you wanted. Both of them successfully answered the question pretty much, but both of them went straight to the OneBox. This is, again, probably unsurprising. You can guess this is probably how most people search.

“Oh, what’s a cephalopod?” The path from distracted to developing

So there’s a OneBox that comes up, and it’s got a picture of a dolphin. So my daughter, a very confident reader, she loves reading, “wat do dolfin eat,” she sat and she read the OneBox, and then she turned to me and she said, “It says they eat fish and herring. Oh, what’s a cephalopod?” I think this was her going from distracted into developing probably. To start off with, she was just answering this…

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