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Assessing cognitive load on web search is useful for characterizing search system features and search tasks with respect to their demands on the searcher’s mental effort. It is also helpful for examining how individual differences among searchers (e.g. cognitive abilities) affect the search process. We examined cognitive load from the perspective of primary and secondary task performance. A controlled web search study was conducted with 48 participants. The primary task performance components were found to be significantly related to both the objective and the subjective task difficulty. However, the relationship between objective and subjective task difficulty and the secondary task performance measures was weaker than expected. The results indicate that the dual-task approach needs to be used with caution.