According to research from Hitwise, the proportion of one-word search queries grew from 20.3 percent in January 2009 to 27.2 percent by October 2011, Search Engine Watch reports.
This could be attributed to a variety of factors, most notably the modern user's greater reliance on mobile and predictive queries for both local search and organic search.
A recent eMarketer survey revealed that daily usage of mobile devices for search was up by 20 percent in January 2011, year-over-year. Furthermore, 73 percent of respondents stated they use mobile browsers for search, with queries for local content such as classified ads, online retail and restaurant information up 51 percent, 50 percent and 40 percent year-over-year, respectively.
Search Engine Watch also points to the obvious factor of screen size on the mobile format, as it's simply more convenient to type in a lesser number of words or shorter phrases.
Furthermore, many users still input entire URLs into the search bar on Google's homepage. Because there are no spaces, these are generally counted as one-word keywords. This has also become more prevalent because those who have switched to Google Chrome from older browsers such as Safari and Internet Explorer can utilize a singular input field for both URLs and search queries, altering how search is done.
Geo-targeting may also play a role, specifically because of its ability to narrow keyword searches down by location. Because many smartphones enable GPS and track a person's whereabouts, users are less likely to input the name of a certain restaurant along with the city they're in anymore. A single name, such as "McDonalds" may now suffice, with the results showing all locations in the user's area.
"In 2011, geo-targeted local search exploded and it’s going to continue to be a major trend for 2012," Guido Gaona, director of the technology practice at Burston Marsteller Latin America, told the Miami Herald. "More and more, people want to know what is near them. What restaurants should they go to? What stores should they shop at? Everyone wants this information, especially on their mobile phones. That is why geo-targeting your company is so important."
Will this trend toward shorter keywords continue? Users will only likely know for sure if Google or Bing releases a new algorithm, citing the importance of curtailed searches. However, the growth over the past three years remains something to watch.