Search Satisfaction
: Choice Overload, Variety Seeking and Serendipity in Search Engine Use

  • Pawitra Chiravirakul

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Users of current web search engines are often presented with a large number of returns after submitting a search term and choosing from the list might lead to them suffering from the effect of “choice overload”, as reported in earlier work. However, these search results are typically presented in an ordered list so as to simplify the search process, which may influence search behaviour and moderate the effect of number of choices. In this thesis, the effects of the number of search returns and their ordering on user behaviour and satisfaction are explored.A mixed methods approach combining multiple data collection and analysis techniques is employed in order to investigate these effects in terms of three specific issues, namely, choice overload in search engine use, variety seeking behaviour in a situation where multiple aspects of search results are required, and the chance of encountering serendipity. The participants were given search tasks and asked to choose from the sets of returns under experimental conditions. The results from the first three experiments revealed that large numbers of search results returned from a search engine tended to be associated with more satisfaction with the selected options when the decision was made without a time limit. In addition, when time was more strongly constrained the choices from a small number of returns led to relatively higher satisfaction than for a large number. Moreover, users’ behaviour was strongly influenced by the ordering of options in that they often looked and selected options presented near the top of the result lists when they perceived the ranking was reliable. The next experiment further investigated the ranking reliance behaviour when potentially useful search results were presented in supplementary lists. The findings showed that when users required a variety of options, they relied less on the ordering and tended to adapt their search strategies to seek variety by browsing more returns through the list, selecting options located further down, and/or choosing the supplementary web pages provided. Finally, with the aim of illustrating how chance encountering can be supported, a model of an automated synonym-enhanced search was developed and employed in a real-world literature search. The results showed that the synonym search was occasionally useful for providing a variety of search results, which in turn increased users’ opportunity to come across serendipitous experiences.
Date of Award14 Jan 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorStephen Payne (Supervisor)


  • Search Satisfaction
  • Search Engine Use

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