Searching for information related to news, entertainment, products, destinations, or other varieties of information is a core activity in online environments. This two-essay dissertation examines the information search process in online environments, focusing on how information cues (e.g. images, text, and ordered sets) within websites’ search engine result pages influence users’ search behavior. The first essay investigates the strength of images as information cues within ordered sets and how they affect the evaluation and selection behaviors of consumers. Essay two studies how humans in images during information search change users’ evaluation and selection behaviors. Both essays contribute to existing literature by expanding our understanding of how image information cues are used in the search process through the lens of cognitive behavior theories and the use of eye tracking methodology. One glance of a picture is purported to be greater than a thousand words, but does this hold true when individuals conduct search online? The first study looks at the role images play in online consumer search as an information cue contained in ordered sets common in search engine result pages. To investigate this question, a controlled experiment is conducted using eye-tracking measures to assess the level of cognitive processing a person exhibits on images during search. This approach helps to answer how the relevancy of an image weighs with respect to its rank order in consumers’ evaluation of a set of search results, guiding them to rich information sources. Our findings confirm prior literature showing that image rank order is significant in drawing consumer attention. More importantly, our findings show that both image relevancy and image rank order are significant toward product link selection. Additionally, the level of cognitive evaluation of the image positively moderates the impact of image relevancy on selection. Our research results add clarity concerning the importance of images in online search and serves as the beginning of a research stream investigating additional information cues (e.g., text) towards a comprehensive understanding of the interactive effects of multiple cues on search. For practitioners, we anticipate our findings will provide useful insight for website design on the use of relevant images in search engine result pages and how they influence consumers’ evaluation of search results. The use of humans in images has also become a pervasive information cue in result pages on video search sites. The use of humans in images has been considered an appealing trait to users providing guidance to positive search outcomes. However, we propose that when searching for videos online, images with humans can be either a distraction or a benefit depending upon the type of information one is seeking.
Expanding on the first essay, the second study examines the effect that humans depicted in images has on people’s evaluation and selection behaviors during search. Anchored on information foraging theory, where people seek rich information sources by identifying highly relevant information cues that direct them to the information they seek, this study utilizes an experimental approach to assess people’s preferences toward the use of humans in images during search. The findings determine that when people seek information related to facts, features, or characteristics of a product, including humans in images can deter people from selecting associated informational links. In comparison, in tasks where people are seeking information on how to do a task or complete a process, humans in images have no direct effect. Additionally, our findings imply that people’s appeal toward social presence can positively moderate the impact of humans in images, improving the likeliness associated links will be selected when humans are present in images.
We believe the outcomes of this study strengthen the findings in essay one and reveal circumstances explaining when people have a preference to specific information cues in search and how these influence their selection decisions. The outcomes also answer when humans displayed in images cause people to avoid selecting on links during their search evaluation. Additionally, the findings make a theoretical contribution by investigating the interaction of a person’s preference toward social presence and the use of humans in online images. These outcomes serve practitioners who select thumbnail images to be displayed on video search websites by illustrating when including humans in images can be an advantage or should be avoided.
These two studies add to the current body of knowledge by uncovering aspects of the process of search and how images influence online search behavior. We not only explain how individuals make use of images as a relevant information cue but also investigate the relationship an individual’s preference toward social presence and the influence of humans in images in an online search environment. Furthermore, we propose that consideration needs to be made of the type of search being conducted along with
people’s personal preferences in the development of images as cues online. In practice, this research can aid web designers in two ways. First, it can provide insights on how
information cues in presentations can alter search behavior. Secondly, it highlights the criticality of image relevancy, the use of humans in images, and how these characteristics
affect users’ evaluation of search results and link selection.
Dr. Jeff Kaleta, Ph.D. (MIS)
Kennessaw State University
Dissertation Defense: July 2015
Chair: Drs. William Kettinger and Chen Zhang