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Web search query

A web search query is a query based on a specific search term that a user enters into a web search engine to satisfy his or her information needs. Web search queries are distinctive in that they are often plain text or hypertext with optional search-directives (such as "and"/"or" with "-" to exclude). They vary greatly from standard query languages, which are governed by strict syntax rules as command languages with keyword or positional parameters.

A study of the same Excite query logs revealed that 19% of the queries contained a geographic term (e.g., place names, zip codes, geographic features, etc.). Studies also show that, in addition to short queries (i.e., queries with few terms), there are also predictable patterns to how users change their queries.

A 2005 study of Yahoo's query logs revealed 33% of the queries from the same user were repeat queries and that 87% of the time the user would click on the same result. This suggests that many users use repeat queries to revisit or re-find information. This analysis is confirmed by a Bing search engine blog post telling about 30% queries are navigational queries.

In addition, much research has shown that query term frequency distributions conform to the power law, or long tail distribution curves. That is, a small portion of the terms observed in a large query log (e.g. > 100 million queries) are used most often, while the remaining terms are used less often individually. This example of the Pareto principle (or 80–20 rule) allows search engines to employ optimization techniques such as index or database partitioning, caching and pre-fetching. In addition, studies have been conducted on discovering linguistically-oriented attributes that can recognize if a web query is navigational, informational or transactional.

But in a recent study in 2011 it was found that the average length of queries has grown steadily over time and average length of non-English languages queries had increased more than English queries. Google has implemented the hummingbird update in August 2013 to handle longer search queries since more searches are conversational (i.e. "where is the nearest coffee shop?"). For longer queries, Natural language processing helps, since parse trees of queries can be matched with that of answers and their snippets. For multi-sentence queries where keywords statistics and Tf-idf is not very helpful, Parse thicket technique comes into play to structurally represent complex questions and answers.

With search engines that support Boolean operators and parentheses, a technique traditionally used by librarians can be applied. A user who is looking for documents that cover several topics or facets may want to describe each of them by a disjunction of characteristic words, such as vehicles OR cars OR automobiles. A faceted query is a conjunction of such facets; e.g. a query such as (electronic OR computerized OR DRE) AND (voting OR elections OR election OR balloting OR electoral) is likely to find documents about electronic voting even if they omit one of the words "electronic" and "voting", or even both.