The official Google Search blog
Test your creativity with our search caption challenge
December 21, 2011
(Cross-posted on the
Official Google Blog
Our main goal at Google Search is to bring you the most relevant and useful results as quickly as possible. But, we are aware that often that is only part of your task or journey. Sometimes, you need more than simple results. You might want to learn, to discover, to be entertained or get insights.
Insights can happen when you least expect them. To improve their chances, it's good to try other things, or do things differently once in awhile. As a lifelong fan and connoisseur of
style cartoons, I always believed in the power of humor not just to entertain but to enlighten. I have tried to connect humor to everything I do (although, I have to admit, not always successfully). The best cartoonists possess great insights, which they illustrate in a clever package that we can consume in seconds and yet remember for years.
With all of this in mind, today we’re connecting Google search and cartoons through a
search caption challenge
. Cartoon caption contests have a long history dating back at least to the 1930s, as can be seen in
I found from
magazine. For our modern version, we worked with artists like Matthew Diffee, Emily Flake, Christoph Niemann, Danny Shanahan and Jim Woodring, who created cartoons that place characters in unusual, interesting and funny situations—all with a common twist. In each cartoon, one of the characters is doing a Google search. We've left it to you to imagine what they'd be searching for at that moment, and left the caption blank for you to fill in with your answer.
To participate, go to
and submit your idea. Your caption will appear on the site, and you can share it with friends via a unique link. You can also vote on your favorite submissions and the most popular will rise to the top.
We hope this game helps you think in a way you wouldn't otherwise, and maybe get some insights. Or just have fun.
Posted by Udi Manber, VP of Engineering and Cartoons
Santa Search it!
December 19, 2011
Sometimes music makes learning easier. With this in mind, a few of us Googlers decided to make a search tip rap music video to help you, and Saint Nick, navigate the holidays.
will help make your holiday season easier. And if you found our video as helpful as Santa did, feel free to share it with a loved one. Remember, re-gifting is okay when sharing search tips.
, Content and User Education Specialist
Exploring art from the Met -- wherever you find it
December 16, 2011
Have you ever wanted to learn more about a piece of art than what’s on the placard next to it, or find out more about an artist’s life and how a piece fits into it? What about outside the museum -- the artwork on your favorite book’s cover, or a poster you really like at a bus stop?
We’ve teamed with the
Metropolitan Museum of Art
to bring their art collection to life in
. We want art patrons to be able to bridge the physical art world with the online world in new, easy-to-use ways. So now no matter where you spot an image of art from the Met’s collection, you can simply snap a picture of it with Goggles and get detailed information about its history, the bibliography of its creator, or even the story of the collection -- including info from the recently launched mobile-optimized version of the Met’s website.
Google Goggles’ image recognition abilities work both inside the Met where wireless is available (it’s expanding rapidly) and outside as well. That means that anywhere you can take a picture and connect to the web, whether you’re looking at artwork in books, magazines, or on billboards, you can identify and begin interacting with the art. If you really enjoy a piece of art, Goggles will let you share your find with a friend or help you buy a copy for your home. And if you just want to remember a piece to enjoy later, you can use Goggles Search History to pick and choose pieces to revisit -- in effect, creating your own virtual art collection.
The Met has provided us over 76,000 artwork images to index. Thousands of these aren’t on display at the moment -- so you can actually learn about works you won’t find in the galleries. With over 340,000 works of art from the Met accessible online, there’s plenty more to come. Learn more about
how to use Google Goggles
, and have fun exploring!
Posted by Matt Bridges, Technical Lead, Google Goggles
Rich Snippet Instructional Videos
December 16, 2011
cross-posted to the
Webmaster Central Blog
When users come to Google, they have a pretty good idea of what they’re looking for, but they need help deciding which result might have the information that best suits their needs. So, the challenge for Google is to make it very clear to our users what content exists on a page in both a useful and concise manner. That’s one reason we have
Essentially, rich snippets provide you with the ability to help Google highlight aspects of your page. Whether your site contains information about products, recipes, events or apps, a few simple additions to your markup can result in more engagement with your content -- and potentially more traffic to your site.
To help you get started or fine tune your rich snippets, we’ve put together a
series of tutorial videos
for webmasters of all experience levels. These videos provide guidance as you mark up your site so that Google is better able to understand your content. We can use that content to power the rich snippets we display for your pages. Check out the videos below to get started:
For more information on how to use rich snippets markup for your site, visit our
, Product Manager
Supporting users by answering a different kind of query
December 16, 2011
Imagine Bob Dylan asking to hear the thoughts of every audience member at Woodstock ‘69 and you’ll get a glimpse of what we’re inviting when we say, “Give us feedback.” With hundreds of millions of users, Google Search may have more customers than any other product on the planet. And, like any customers, these hundreds of millions of people need support. Perhaps not surprisingly, in 2011 we had nearly 9 million visits to our
Search Help Forum
. With an ever-changing product and a diverse user base, keeping our ears attuned to what people are saying is a very interesting challenge, and one we’ve taken seriously.
Of course, there’s more to providing support than just listening. It involves in-person and online interaction, targeted education and online help resources, and continuous product refinements based on feedback. Supporting our users means engaging with them and taking action. To do this we combine two of Google’s biggest strengths: building for scalability and continuous product refinement.
Providing scalable support
When it comes to providing support for search, working at scale is our bread and butter. We reach nearly 320,000 users per day through our
, which is available in over 40 languages. It’s full of articles and videos to explain search features and answer users’ most frequently asked questions. We also continually refine old content and publish new content so that when you click on “Search help”, the information you read is up-to-date. Since Google Help Centers, as a unit, rank 12th on the list of most visited Google properties, quality and relevance is of the utmost importance. We also try to surface help content in our products as well. For example, you’ll often find “Learn more” links on the results page when we launch a new feature or show you an alert message. We also recently linked to an educational video about SafeSearch from the
Google Images homepage
so that users can easily learn how to strictly filter their search results.
There’s also a wealth of knowledge in our user base that, when shared, can be a very powerful resource. In our
, our search-savvy superusers called “Top Contributors” share tips and best practices with the community every day. We also have over 30 Google product managers, engineers, and community managers who pop in to help answer questions, monitor launch feedback, and look for issues and feature requests. Just this year, Googlers have posted over 3,500 times and Top Contributors over 9,000 times. In partnership with our
Search Education Evangelism
team, we also venture into the classroom in order to teach students, librarians, and teachers how to get the most out of Google Search. By equipping educators with best practices for searching, we can scalably reach the next generation of Internet users.
We work at scale because, frankly, we have to. Even if every Google employee worked full-time answering user questions, we still couldn’t talk with even a small percentage of our users or website owners. Since hundreds of millions of people use Google, and there are more than 200 million websites online, the only way for us to support our user base is through scalable solutions like videos, blogs, documentation, forums, and other means.
Translating feedback into action
You have many options for sharing feedback with us. Some reports come through our various contact forms in the Help Center and others via the forum or the
Give us feedback
link on the bottom of the results page. You can also turn to social media to seek help on a particular feature. Regardless of how you share feedback, we try to stay abreast of the issues you face. When we do find a bug, we work to fix it as soon as possible. Does that mean that we page engineers at 3:00am to immediately fix bugs? Sometimes, yes! More often, though, we collaborate with our users and our product managers and engineers by gathering information on issues. Often, an engineer or product manager will respond to a user directly in our forum in order to better understand the situation or to announce that the bug has been fixed.
To help keep our team accountable for addressing user feedback, we create a quarterly list of our top user issues and work to address them with folks from all levels in the company. The search team is not afraid of tackling tough problems, but it can take some time to come to agreement on an approach and implement it. This doesn’t mean that we fix every problem, as many of you know. We recognize that there is a lot of room for improvement whether in our rankings, our UI, or by fixing minor bugs. The good news is that we’re quickly aware when there are serious issues and we keep working hard to address them.
While every change we make is to a some extent motivated by user feedback and testing, here are a few examples of changes that were largely inspired by the feedback we've seen in our help forums and across the web:
Verbatim search tool:
For all of you who told us that you wanted remove synonyms, spelling refinements, and personalization from your results, we added this new tool to the left panel of the results page.
Google Security Center:
In response to many of you reporting erroneous redirects when clicking on a result, we launched an entirely new security center including educational content about malware.
Results per page
As a result of your feedback following the launch of Google Instant, we greyed out the results per page preference when you have Instant enabled.
Because you requested to permanently exclude certain results from your results pages, we made it possible for you to block a particular site from appearing.
Support isn’t just about issue resolution or education. It’s about relationships and showing the human side of the knowledge engine that our users have come to love. We want you to tell us how we can improve your personal Google experience because, ultimately, we want to delight you. It’s important to know that by sharing your thoughts, you’re not just exercising free speech, you’re helping to shape the future of search.
Posted by Kelly Fee, Community Manager
Clicks and impressions for authors
December 14, 2011
(Cross-posted on the
Webmaster Central Blog
With the latest
improvements to the way authorship annotations look
in search and the
addition of authorship to Google News
, authors have been really excited about getting more visibility, and users benefit from seeing the name, photo, and way to connect with the person who created the content.
Authors have also been giving us a lot of feedback on what else they'd like to see, so today we're introducing “Author Stats” in
that shows you how often your content is showing up on the Google search results page. If you associate your content with your Google Profile either via
a simple link
, you can visit Webmaster Tools to see how many impressions and clicks your content got on the Google search results page. Check out what Matt Cutts would see for his content:
To see your information, go to
and login with the same username you use for your Google+ Profile. On the left hand panel, you can see “Author Stats” under the “Labs” section. This is an experimental feature so we’re continuing to iterate and improve, but we wanted to get early feedback from you. You can e-mail us at
if you run into any issues or have feedback.
If you’re a content creator interested in learning more about authorship,
check out our Help Center
, Software Engineer
Searching for fresh, artisanal ingredients
December 14, 2011
Searches can become stories. Some are inspiring, some change the way we see the world, and some just put a smile on our face. This is the latest in a series of posts about people who have used Google to discover or do something extraordinary. Have a story?
For a chef, a great dish starts with a solid foundation of fresh and unique ingredients. As part of Google’s Food Team, we’re tasked with serving about 50,000 healthy, creative and flavorful meals every day at nearly 100 cafes around the world. Our team thrives on the challenge of creating innovative new dishes, expanding our knowledge of what ingredients go well together, and satisfying our curiosity of where ingredients come from and the difference it makes in the quality of our food. We try to find ingredients that are as
local, seasonal and organic
as possible because when it’s fresh, it just tastes better.
Brett Ottolenghi, supplier of specialty ingredients to elite chefs in Las Vegas, has a similar philosophy. He is passionate about food, and he prides himself on finding the highest quality ingredients and being knowledgeable about what he supplies. I’m always thrilled to hear about people who share our passion for fresh ingredients, who’d go the extra mile to make sure what they get is the real thing.
One of Brett’s most recent discoveries was a wasabi farm in Japan. Realizing that the majority of wasabi in the United States is just horseradish that has been dyed green, Brett wanted to learn more about the real stuff. He searched on Google to find out more about fresh wasabi, and with the help of Translate, was able to read a site in Japanese about a local wasabi farm. He then contacted the family in Shizuoka, Japan who has been producing wasabi for 11 generations. During his trip to the wasabi farm in Japan, Brett learned the background of the condiment and how it’s fed oxygen and minerals from man-made waterfalls and got a taste of fresh wasabi -- and was able to bring it back to his chefs.
“It’s not as harsh as horseradish. It’s much sweeter,” said Brett. “That’s the reason it’s so important to travel and visit the producers because you can learn about the details in what they’re doing that makes their product so much better.”
With this knowledge, not only is Brett is able to provide his chefs with a unique ingredient, he provides a new experience with wasabi. “I don’t think my chefs would expect their supplier to know that much. Yuma’s family, their story adds to the flavor, it adds to the experience. You get into food because you’re passionate about it. As much as you learn, there’s still more to know.”
Posted by Scott Giambastiani, Executive Chef
Making Public Data More Accessible on the Web
December 12, 2011
Last year, we launched the
Google Public Data Explorer
, an online tool that organizes public statistics and brings them to life with interactive exploration and visualizations. Since then, we’ve added dozens of new datasets and received enthusiastic feedback from users around the world. Several data providers, such as the
UN Development Programme
, have even integrated the tool into their web sites.
Today, we’re pleased to announce the next step in our public data effort- a completely revamped product featuring an updated look and feel, improved interaction modes, and a new visualization engine.
Now you can:
1. Search across the data
Our most popular datasets have
been accessible through Google Web Search
for some time, and this will continue to be the case. Now, however, you can also search within the product, across our extensive corpus of public statistics. This allows you to find data on issues such as
. The search page also features a set of sample visualizations and stories, which highlight some of the topics covered by the product.
2. Slice and dice with fewer clicks
Once you’ve selected a dataset, the new exploration UI puts the data front and center. Want to plot “Fertility Rate” instead of “GDP”? Just make a single click in the list to the left of the chart. Interested in the unemployment rate for women as opposed to men? Just as easy. No more digging through pop-ups or settings menus.
3. Access it on any device
Our new charts are built according to open web standards such as HTML5. As a result, they work across all common desktop, tablet, and smartphone configurations, without depending on third-party plugins. We expect the performance and functionality of the charts to improve over time as browser support for HTML5 matures.
Give the new
Google Public Data
a try, and let us know what you think by posting in our
Posted by Benjamin Yolken, Product Manager, Google Public Data Team
Now playing: Faster movie search on Android and iPhone
December 9, 2011
(Cross-posted on the
Google Mobile blog
With the December movie season in full swing, we’ve just made it even faster and easier to discover movies, showtimes and theaters, all from your smartphone. Now when you search for [movies] or your favorite theater like [century san francisco] on Google.com on your phone, you’ll see interactive results for movies in a new swipeable ribbon, with the most relevant information displayed at the top of the page.
For each movie, you’ll see the movie poster, a short summary, ratings and the nearest theaters and showtimes. Designed to help you quickly browse what’s playing in theaters now, this information instantly updates as you slide through the movie posters -- no need to wait for a page to load or to use the back button.
To learn more about a movie, tap the movie title to find details like the cast and a full summary. And if you see a play button on the movie poster, you can tap to view the official trailer. You can even buy tickets directly from your smartphone by tapping on underlined showtimes -- and skip past those long holiday box office lines!
So the next time you head out to see sagas of vampires, the world’s biggest Muppets fan, dancing penguins or nearly impossible heists, try the new interactive results for movies by visiting Google.com on your iOS or Android phone’s browser and searching for [movies], [theaters] or a movie title. This feature is available in English, in the US.
Posted by Toshi Tajima, Software Engineer
Exploring ancient ruins in 3D with Google Earth
December 8, 2011
(Cross-posted from the
Searches can become stories. Some inspire us, others change the way we see the world or just make us smile. This is the latest in a
series of videos
about people who have used Google to discover or do something extraordinary.
The field of archaeology has changed much over the years. New modes of transportation have made even the most remote sites accessible, while cameras simplify how a historical record is created and shared with the world.
Spurred on by these innovations, researchers are also embracing technology as a creative way to aid their research and explore ancient sites. To conduct archaeological studies in the Middle East,
Professor David Kennedy
of the University of Western Australia turned to
From his office chair in Perth, Professor Kennedy has
thousands of archaeological sites without having to step foot on Saudi Arabian or Yemeni soil. Historically it has been difficult to undertake ground surveys and aerial photographs of these areas are seldom available for research, making the countries some of the least explored archaeologically. By carefully studying satellite imagery of the Arabian peninsula in Google Earth, Professor Kennedy has
unearthed an enormous record
of archaeological sites, from ancient
to Pendant-shaped tombs and animal traps called kites that could be up to 9,000 years old.
Professor Kennedy’s Search Story video
to see how Google Earth aided his search for these ancient sites across the Middle East.
isn’t the only archaeologist to discover the potential in using satellite imagery to aid traditional field methods. Visit
to discover how the scientific community has used Google Earth to
uncover ancient relics
, find a
new hominid ancestor
identify hidden forests
put craters on the map
Do you have a great Google Earth story?
Posted by Vicky Homan, Google Earth Product Marketing
Tablet image results in new carousel view
December 8, 2011
(Cross-posted on the
Google Mobile blog
In July, we started to
evolve the Google design and experience
on Android and iOS tablets by updating features like larger touch targets and enhanced image viewing to make searching faster and easier. Today, we’re building on that foundation by adding a new image carousel for viewing large image results within a few swipes.
As someone who enjoys being outdoors, I like exploring beautiful images of nature. With the new image carousel, I can discover photos of bright sea anemones or colorful lorikeet birds on my tablet in a more interactive and immersive way. Now when I tap on an image result, it’ll expand in the carousel view and I can swipe through the search results. To learn more about an image, a tap on the web page preview, title, description or URL will take me directly to the webpage. See how you can take the image carousel for a spin:
Try out the new image carousel by going to Google on your iOS or Android tablet’s browser and searching for your favorite images. This feature is currently available in over 40 languages.
I hope you enjoy searching for beautiful images in this new view.
, Product Manager
Showing some love to math lovers
December 5, 2011
I still recall the day when my friend Yossi came to school and showed off his brand new graphing calculator. I was stunned by how easy it was to plot complicated functions -- meanwhile, the rest of us were still drawing them by hand on graph paper.
Today, I’m hoping to share that magical feeling with students around the world, with the introduction of graphing functionality on Google. Now you can plot mathematical functions right on the search result page. Just type in a
and you’ll see an interactive graph on the top of the search results page.
You can zoom in and out and pan across the plane to explore the function in more detail. You can also draw
by separating them with commas. This feature covers an extensive range of single variable functions including trigonometric, exponential, logarithmic and their compositions, and is available in modern browsers.
I hope students and
around the world find this experience as magical as I found the graphing calculator so long ago.
Posted by Adi Avidor, Google Engineer and Math Lover
See flight results right on Google.com
December 1, 2011
(Cross-posted on the
ITA by Google blog
Back in September, we gave
an early look at our Flight Search feature
, which was developed to help people find faster, more flexible, and more useful results for online travel searches.
Flight Search results have been available by clicking on “Flights” on the left-hand navigation bar on the search results page, or by going directly to
. But we’ve heard from you that you’d like to see more options to find flights and prices even more easily and quickly.
Starting today, we’ll begin showing flight information right in your Google search results on certain flight related searches. For example, if you search for [flights from San Francisco to Las Vegas] you’ll see a table that shows available flights, including duration and prices. You can adjust dates on the page, or click any flight to further research and book your trip.
Over the next couple days, you’ll start to see the flight results appear for searches whose origins and destinations are currently supported by our Flight Search feature. In the short term, those results are limited to domestic US flights. The
flight schedule feature
will continue to provide information about nonstop routes around the world and across 11 languages.
Once you've booked your flight and are on your way, if you're traveling through one of the many U.S. airports whose floor plans we
to Google Maps for Android, you can easily see where you are and what's around you from the convenience of your mobile device. Happy travels!
Posted by Emmet Connolly, UX Designer, Flight Search feature
Search quality highlights: new monthly series on algorithm changes
December 1, 2011
16 May, 2012, 7:00pm: We made a minor update to the description of the "parked domain" classifier to ensure we aren't implying ads can't be useful.
Today we’re publishing another list of search improvements, beginning a monthly series where we’ll be sharing even more details about the algorithm and feature enhancements we make on a near-daily basis. We piloted a
post like this
earlier in November, and we were glad to hear you liked it.
We know people care about how search works, so we always want to push the envelope when it comes to transparency. We added it up, and to date we’ve published almost 1,000 blog posts about search, more than 400 webmaster videos and thousands of forum posts. For years now we’ve been blogging about significant algorithmic updates like
and our recent
. So, why do we need yet another blog series?
We’ve been wracking our brains trying to think about how to make search even more transparent. The good news is that we make roughly 500 improvements in a given year, so there’s always more to share. With this blog series, we’ll be highlighting many of the subtler algorithmic and visible feature changes we make. These are changes that aren’t necessarily big enough to warrant entire blog posts on their own.
Here’s a list since our post on November 14th:
Related query results refinements:
Sometimes we fetch results for queries that are similar to the actual search you type. This change makes it less likely that these results will rank highly if the original query had a rare word that was dropped in the alternate query. For example, if you are searching for [rare red widgets], you might not be as interested in a page that only mentions “red widgets.”
More comprehensive indexing:
This change makes more long-tail documents available in our index, so they are more likely to rank for relevant queries.
New “parked domain” classifier:
This is a new algorithm for automatically detecting parked domains. Parked domains are placeholder sites with little unique content for our users and are often filled only with ads. In most cases, we prefer not to show them.
More autocomplete predictions:
With autocomplete, we try to strike a balance between coming up with flexible predictions and remaining true to your intentions. This change makes our prediction algorithm a little more flexible for certain queries, without losing your original intention.
Fresher and more complete blog search results:
We made a change to our blog search index to get coverage that is both fresher and more comprehensive.
We added new signals to help us make better predictions about which of two similar web pages is the original one.
Live results for Major League Soccer and the Canadian Football League:
This change displays the latest scores & schedules from these leagues along with quick access to game recaps and box scores.
Image result freshness:
We made a change to how we determine image freshness for news queries. This will help us find the freshest images more often.
Layout on tablets:
We made some minor color and layout changes to improve usability on tablet devices.
Top result selection code rewrite:
This code handles extra processing on the top set of results. For example, it ensures that we don’t show too many results from one site (“host crowding”). We rewrote the code to make it easier to understand, simpler to maintain and more flexible for future extensions.
And here’s a recap of improvements we’ve already blogged about since last time:
New verbatim tool
Updated Search App for iPad
New Google bar
We’ll report back in early January with our next batch and plan to continue monthly after that.
Subscribe to the blog
and soon you’ll be real search geeks like us!
Posted by Scott Huffman, Engineering Director
The evolution of search in six minutes
November 28, 2011
This summer we posted a video that takes a peek
under the hood of search
, sharing the methodology behind search ranking and evaluation. Through this methodology, we make roughly 500 improvements to search in a typical year. As we often discuss, that’s
a lot of change
, and it can be hard to make sense of it all.
Following up on our last video, we wanted to share with you a short history of the evolution of search, highlighting some of the most important milestones from the past decade—and a taste of what’s coming next.
Our goal is to get you to the answer you’re looking for faster and faster, creating a nearly seamless connection between your questions and the information you seek. That means you don’t generally need to know about the latest search feature in order to take advantage of it— simply type into the box as usual and find the answers you’re looking for.
However, for those of you looking to deepen your understanding of how search has evolved, the video highlights some important trends:
With Universal Search—which returns results like images, videos, and news, in addition to webpages—we’re helping you find all different kinds of information in the same place. We’ve continued to make search more comprehensive, enabling you to find products, places, patents, books, maps and more.
Today on Google you’ll find more than just a list of links to websites. You’ll find Quick Answers at the top of the page for a wide variety of topics, including flight times, sports scores, weather and dozens more. As our technology gets better, we’re beginning to answer
for you, right on the search results page.
The Future of Search:
We’ve also been focused on developing faster ways to search and save time, whether we’re shaving seconds off searches with
or helping you search from your phone with
. Searching should be as easy as thinking, and the future looks bright!
As part of making the video we also created a timeline of search features. It’s
not the first timeline
we’ve done, but I think this one does a nice job of categorizing the different kinds of Universal Results and Quick Answers we’ve added over the years:
The timeline depicts the approximate dates when we launched particular search feature enhancements. You can also download a larger image by following this
It’s been exciting to be part of the evolution of search over the past decade, and we’re thrilled about what’s in store next. If the past is any indication, we don’t know what search will look like in 2020, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it looks nothing like it does today.
Posted by Ben Gomes, Google Fellow
The “Pride of Australia” and his search story
November 23, 2011
In February 2011, Queensland, Australia was hit by Cyclone Yasi whose resulting floods devastated many towns and submerged roads and homes. With streets and landmarks under water, Queensland helicopter pilot Mark Kempton and his team faced the gloomy prospect of being unable to identify and rescue stranded Aussies. Armed with his mobile phone, Mark turned to Google Maps to navigate the area and locate people in distress. He and his team worked around the clock throughout the crisis and rescued 43 people from rooftops and treetops in the town of Grantham.
At Google, we’re constantly inspired by our users and honored that our products can play a small part in helping them achieve the extraordinary. Yesterday, Mark Kempton was recognised with the 2011
Pride of Australia
Award for Heroism. Congratulations, Mark!
Here is Mark’s search story:
Posted by Lucinda Barlow, Head of Marketing, Google Australia and New Zealand
Some thoughts on personalization
November 23, 2011
about personalization in search, but I wanted to take the time to lay out our broader philosophy. First, it’s important to understand what personalization is, and what it isn’t. It isn’t, for example, the entire context of the search: the way pages link to one another, the words on documents on the web, the language of the query, etc. Context is so foundational in search today that without it, search results would be almost meaningless.
Personalization is a narrow class of context. It’s the context of you, the searcher, including your interests and your network of contacts. This special kind of context has a subtle, but important, impact on search results. Personalization is understanding who you are to give you the best answers, and is definitely not about making search results look like your reflection in a mirror.
Context in search
Before I delve into what personalization is really all about, it’s important to understand the value of “context” in search. Think about how you communicate with other people in your daily life, even strangers. For example, if you're standing at a bus stop and you ask, “Excuse me, when is the next one?” -- there are certain things you expect in response. You expect a response in English, and you expect information about this particular bus route. You also expect that if you ask a follow-up question like, “How much is the fare?” -- the answer will be about the bus. You can expect all those things because the person you’re talking to knows the context of the conversation.
If a search engine doesn’t understand context, results become very strange very quickly. Imagine the bus stop scenario without any understanding of context:
You: “Excuse me, when is the next one?”
Search results: “The next NFL football game will be on 11/20 between the Bills and the Dolphins”
You: “How much is the fare?”
Search results: “Taxis in New York City start at $2.50.”
Context is subtle, and it’s not easy for a computer to replicate the kind of contextual understanding humans have in everyday conversation. Yet, despite the challenges, over the past decade context has become a foundational part of search, and it’s hard to imagine search without it:
What is the language of the search query? The query language is an incredibly basic, yet important signal we rely on to determine the right results to serve. If you type a search in French and we return results entirely in Swahili, you’ll be changing search engines very, very fast.
Where was the search conducted? If you’re looking to order a pizza, and we send you off to a pizza parlor on the other side of the country, you’ll be waiting a long time for delivery.
What search queries did you type immediately before this one? If you say to me “I’m looking for a card game,” and I say to you, “which one?” and then you say “Dominion,” and then I say, “The card game or the power company?” … you’d be pretty frustrated. It’s the same with search.
Personalization, a special kind of context
“Personalization” is a special kind of context; it’s the context of you. For example, what are you interested in, who do you care about, and what do you search for regularly? In addition to the contexts mentioned above, we personalize search results in a couple specific ways:
Past search activity:
personalization, we make search results more relevant to you based on your interests, as revealed through the “context” of past queries and clicks. We look at both “pattern” (which site do you generally visit for a given topic) and “preference” (which topics do you tend to be interested in). For example, if you’re an apple farmer who frequently visits sites about apple varieties and farming techniques, we’ll be more likely to show you results about apples the fruit rather than Apple computers. If you’re signed out, we’ll
still customize your search results
based on up to 180 days of past search information linked to your browser using an anonymous cookie.
, we improve your results by relying on the context of your friends, family, coworkers and other people you may care about across the web. We’ll sometimes improve the ranking of results if they’re more likely to be relevant based on your social connections. We’ll also highlight your connections by showing their names and pictures in the results when they’ve published or commented on content, for example by clicking the +1 button.
Transparency and choice
As helpful as personalization and context are in serving you the best results, we also want to provide you with transparency and meaningful choices about how you use our services. Transparency and choice aren’t just an afterthought, they’re a core aspect of our products.
In many cases, transparency and choice are critical to getting you the right answer. For example, when it comes to
, you need to be able to change your settings in order to even read the search results you find. Similarly, with location, sometimes our best guess is incorrect, so we provide a prominent setting in the left-hand panel to
change your location
In other cases, we understand that some people simply prefer a less personalized experience. That’s why, for example, you can specify a generic location like “United States” as your location. It’s also why you can always see and manage your Web History, pause it, or turn it off entirely. Even if you’re signed out, you
can still opt-out
of activity-based personalization. When it comes to Social Search, we provide an easy way to
manage your connected accounts
, as well as a
with a complete list of the people you’ll find highlighted in your search results.
Our philosophy on personalization
Our goal as always is to give you the answers you’re looking for as quickly as possible. The best answers might include some tweaks and tuning based on your interests, and they might include some perspectives from friends and colleagues, but undoubtedly the best answers from across the web will still be highly relevant. We hear from our users again and again that they value the opinions of experts and authorities, and that’s a big part of why they turn to Google.
The science of search is not advanced enough yet to provide a purely personal experience. We aren’t confident enough, for example, to say that you’re interested in the New York Times and not the Wall Street Journal. However, even if our systems improved so much that we could return only a single source, and it would be the source you like the most, we’d still want to provide a variety of sources and opinions. Our users value diverse viewpoints and serendipitous discovery in search results.
We also know from experiments that our best guess about what you’re looking for is sometimes incorrect, so we need to provide you with alternatives. Is the search [smx] looking for the Search Marketing Expo, the Southern Motocross Club, Santa Maria Airport (SMX), the Samsung SMX F50 camcorder, the North Legion SMX snow bike, the Honda SMX, SMX optics, the SMX 22 submarine, SmX Cinema Solutions, or something else entirely? That’s why we have algorithms in place designed specifically to promote variety in the results page. It’s also why we almost always provide you with a list of search results, rather than just one.
It’s clear that personalization will remain an important trend online that will provide benefits to people around the world, and we think it’s important to be thoughtful about our approach to make sure we get it right. We see tremendous potential to make search better by understanding what you care about. The faster we can get you to answers, the more time you’ll have to learn about diverse perspectives and form educated opinions.
Posted by Amit Singhal, Google Fellow
Preparing for food, family and football this Thanksgiving
November 23, 2011
There’s a lot to look forward to at Thanksgiving--pumpkin pie, turkey (or
for some people), time with the family, football, and giving thanks. But the holiday can also be stressful if you’re the one preparing the big dinner. Even if you’re planning to get away, traveling during the holidays can seem more like a headache than a vacation, especially when
42.5 million Americans are expected to travel this Thanksgiving
To help reduce some of the stress so you can spend more time enjoying the occasion, here are some search tips to make your life a little easier.
Tackling the turkey:
Prepare a Thanksgiving meal for even the pickiest of eaters using
in the left-hand navigation bar, where you can search for recipes based on an ingredient, cooking time and/or calorie count. You can search for a [
] recipe without sourdough or a [
] recipe that is less than 500 calories and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. It's also a great way to find new, creative dishes for those leftovers, like [
thanksgiving leftovers shepherd's pie
] instead of the usual [
Convert units of cooking measurements.
Now you have your recipes, but you may need to triple or even quadruple the serving size because you have a lot of people coming over. To quickly do the math and convert different units of measurement, you can enter your desired conversion into the search box. For example, you can find out [
how many tablespoons are in a cup
] and instead of measuring out 16 tablespoons of sugar, you can just measure out one cup of sugar.
Taking care of your travel needs:
Find flights for your holiday travel using Flight Search.
Whether you’re looking to book a last minute holiday getaway or planning ahead for New Year's, our
Flight Search feature
helps you plan your trip quickly and easily. If your travel dates are flexible, Flight Search can even help you
decide when to fly to get the lowest price
. How does [
] for New Year’s sound?
Track a flight.
While waiting for family or friends to arrive, you can quickly see if their flight is on time just by searching the name of the airline and the flight number, such as [
] to see that Aunt Mary has landed in Chicago on time.
Enjoying the rest of the day:
Check the score without leaving the table.
If you can't watch the big football match-ups on Thanksgiving day but want to know the score, sneak a peek on your mobile phone by searching for [
green bay packers
] or [
san francisco 49ers
] to quickly see the score.
Entertain the kids.
An important detail to enjoying your well-cooked meal is making sure the kids’ table doesn’t erupt into a food fight. Keep the kids entertained by searching for [
Thanksgiving coloring pages
] on Google Images, printing them out, and leaving them on the table with crayons. Just make sure there are enough crayons for everyone!
For some people, the perfect way to cap off a filling turkey-and-pumpkin-pie meal is to take the entire family to the movies. Whether you’re catching the new [
Twilight Breaking Dawn
] flick or [
] movie, you can easily check theater locations and showtimes near you by typing [
] into the search box.
Hope you have a happy, stress-free, delicious Thanksgiving!
Posted by Dan Russell, Über Tech Lead, Search Quality & User Happiness
The new Google Search app for iPad
November 21, 2011
(Cross posted on the
Google Mobile Blog
Today, we're very pleased to be launching a significant redesign for the
Google Search app for iPad
. As you can see in our video, whether you're doing research and comparing results, or exploring beautiful imagery, we have added new features to make the app more interactive, more visual and to help you find what you want more easily.
You'll notice that searching is faster and more interactive from your first keystroke. As soon as you begin to type,
starts to display results, so you don't even need to press the search button.
Once you pick a web page to visit, you'll see the page load on a new, slide-in pane that will layer over the search results. You can slide the pane to the right to get back to your search results, and even keep scrolling through the results as your web page is loading. This allows you to go back and forth from results to web pages quickly to get the information you are looking for.
View search results on the left and a web page on the right in the slide-in pane
Viewing image results in the app is now much more vivid. Tap on any image result to use the new image carousel, which lets beautiful images shine. You'll see the image you selected expand, and you can easily swipe through the carousel to see other similar images.
Swipe through the image carousel
Often you may be looking to find something you have seen before again or are continuing research on a topic. But on a tablet, typing can be a challenge. That is why we have created a visual way to explore your search history. Swipe right to view snapshots of pages you've visited, stacked and organized by search term. You can also manage your search history from this new view.
See your past searches with a new, visual history
With this release, we also brought
to the app so you can quickly compare web pages before you choose your result. Tapping on an icon in the top right of the screen brings you into a visual preview of the pages for your search result, easy to scroll through with the swipe of a finger.
Finally, we added a few extra features that we hope will help you find what you want more easily.
After you've selected a result, a new tool helps you find exactly what you need within a web page. Tap the magnifying glass on the top right-hand corner to highlight the most relevant section of the page. You can recommend pages you like with the new +1 button, right next to the magnifying glass, and help others find relevant sites more easily as well.
Helpful tools while you search
We've also made it easier to find and use your favorite Google services like Google News, Calendar and more in the new Apps menu. Tap on an icon to quickly read an email in Gmail, or share a post on Google+ within the slide-in pane. When you slide the pane to the right, you‚Äôll be right back to searching.
Easily find more Google services
The app is available worldwide for iPads with iOS 4.0+. Download it in the
and start enjoying a faster and more interactive experience now.
Posted by Daniel Fish, Software Engineer
Learn more about Flight Search with three quick tips
November 16, 2011
(Cross-posted on the
ITA by Google blog
With the holiday season closely approaching, you might be looking to book flights to visit friends and family. With our
feature, you can plan your trip quickly and easily with just a few clicks of the mouse.
In response to interest from you, we’ve shot three short videos to share some of our favorite ways the Flight Search feature can enable you to explore travel options. For example, you may know you want to travel and have a set budget, but you’re not sure where to go. You can also easily see when to fly in order to get the best deal, and you can use a scatterplot to view the entire set of results to more easily compare all flight options at a glance.
Hope these tips help you spend less time worrying about booking your flight and more time preparing for the holidays.
Posted by Marcin Brodziak, Software Engineer, Flight Search
Search using your terms, verbatim
November 15, 2011
Behind the simplicity of Google search is a complex set of algorithms that expands and improves the query you’ve typed to find the best results. Automatic spelling correction ([vynal] to “vinyl”) and substituting synonyms (matching [pictures] to “photos”) are just two examples of the improvements we make.
In most cases, Google’s algorithms make things better for our users - but in some rare cases, we don’t find what you were looking for. In the past, we provided users with the “+” operator to help you search for specific terms. However, we found that users typed the “+” operator in less than half a percent of all searches, and two thirds of the time, it was used incorrectly. A couple of weeks ago we removed the “+” operator, encouraging the use of the double quotes, which are more likely to be used correctly.
Since then, we’ve received a lot of requests for a more deliberate way to tell Google to search using your exact terms. We’ve been listening, and starting today you’ll be able to do just that through verbatim search. With the verbatim tool on, we’ll use the literal words you entered without making normal improvements such as
your search by using information such as sites you’ve visited before
of your search terms (matching “car” when you search [automotive])
finding results that match
to those in your query (finding results related to “floral delivery” when you search [flower shops])
searching for words with the same
like “running” when you’ve typed [run]
making some of your terms
, like “circa” in [the scarecrow circa 1963]
You can access the verbatim search tool under “More search tools” on the left-hand side.
In addition to verbatim search, which will be rolling out to all users over the next few days, we’re also applying similar ideas directly to our algorithms, such as tuning the accuracy of when our query broadening search improvements trigger. In the meantime, if you want to search for a very specific term, be that [carosel] or the [etymology of sissors], give the verbatim tool a try.
Posted by Corin Anderson, Principal Engineer, Search
Ten recent algorithm changes
November 14, 2011
Today we’re continuing our long-standing
series of blog posts
to share the methodology and process behind our search
. This summer we published a
that gives a glimpse into our overall process, and today we want to give you a flavor of specific algorithm changes by publishing a highlight list of many of the improvements we’ve made over the past couple weeks.
We’ve published hundreds of blog posts about search over the years on this blog, our
Official Google Blog
, and even on my
. But we’re always looking for ways to give you even deeper insight into the over 500 changes we make to search in a given year. In that spirit, here’s a list of ten improvements from the past couple weeks:
Cross-language information retrieval
For queries in languages where limited web content is available (Afrikaans, Malay, Slovak, Swahili, Hindi, Norwegian, Serbian, Catalan, Maltese, Macedonian, Albanian, Slovenian, Welsh, Icelandic), we will now translate relevant English web pages and display the translated titles directly below the English titles in the search results. This feature was available previously in Korean, but only at the bottom of the page. Clicking on the translated titles will take you to pages translated from English into the query language.
Snippets with more page content and less header/menu content:
This change helps us choose more relevant text to use in snippets. As we improve our understanding of web page structure, we are now more likely to pick text from the actual page content, and less likely to use text that is part of a header or menu.
Better page titles in search results by de-duplicating boilerplate anchors:
We look at a number of signals when generating a page’s title. One signal is the anchor text in links pointing to the page. We found that boilerplate links with duplicated anchor text are not as relevant, so we are putting less emphasis on these. The result is more relevant titles that are specific to the page’s content.
Length-based autocomplete predictions in Russian:
This improvement reduces the number of long, sometimes arbitrary query predictions in Russian. We will not make predictions that are very long in comparison either to the partial query or to the other predictions for that partial query. This is already our practice in English.
Extending application rich snippets:
We recently announced
rich snippets for applications
. This enables people who are searching for software applications to see details, like cost and user reviews, within their search results. This change extends the coverage of application rich snippets, so they will be available more often.
Retiring a signal in Image search:
As the web evolves, we often revisit signals that we launched in the past that no longer appear to have a significant impact. In this case, we decided to retire a signal in Image Search related to images that had references from multiple documents on the web.
Fresher, more recent results
As we announced just over a week ago, we’ve made a significant improvement to how we rank fresh content. This change impacts roughly 35 percent of total searches (around 6-10% of search results to a noticeable degree) and better determines the appropriate level of freshness for a given query.
Refining official page detection:
We try hard to give our users the most relevant and authoritative results. With this change, we adjusted how we attempt to determine which pages are official. This will tend to rank official websites even higher in our ranking.
Improvements to date-restricted queries:
We changed how we handle result freshness for queries where a user has chosen a specific date range. This helps ensure that users get the results that are most relevant for the date range that they specify.
Prediction fix for IME queries:
This change improves how Autocomplete handles IME queries (queries which contain non-Latin characters). Autocomplete was previously storing the intermediate keystrokes needed to type each character, which would sometimes result in gibberish predictions for Hebrew, Russian and Arabic.
If you’re a site owner, before you go wild tuning your anchor text or thinking about your web presence for Icelandic users, please remember that this is only a sampling of the hundreds of changes we make to our search algorithms in a given year, and even these changes may not work precisely as you’d imagine. We’ve decided to publish these descriptions in part because these specific changes are less susceptible to gaming.
For those of us working in search every day, we think this stuff is incredibly exciting -- but then again, we’re big search geeks. Let us know what you think and we’ll consider publishing more posts like this in the future.
Posted by Matt Cutts, Distinguished Engineer
The +1 button for Images: See it. Share it.
November 9, 2011
Recommendations from your friends help making decisions on everything easier, from where to eat, to what movies to watch and where to go for your next trip -- and pictures can really help you decide. In March, we introduced the
to let you make recommendations right from your search results page. Now, we’re extending this ability to Google Images.
Let’s say you’re looking to summit Mount Kilimanjaro and want to inspire a few of your climbing buddies to join you. You search for [mount kilimanjaro summit] and switch to Images mode to find rows and rows of photos testifying that this peak can indeed be conquered. By hovering over one of the images, you can quickly recommend this photo to your friends by clicking the +1 button.
Once they’re on board with the trip and start searching too, you’ll be able to quickly spot images they’ve recommended -- you’ll see annotations on the images they’ve +1’d on your search results page.
As with the other +1’s, you’ll need to create a Google+ profile before you can start +1’ing images. Your image +1’s will appear in the +1 tab of your profile, where you can see all of your recommendations in one place and delete those you no longer feel strongly about. To see +1’s on the image results page you’ll need to be logged into your
Posted by Xiaorui Gan, Software Engineer
Powering a new job search engine for military veterans
November 7, 2011
(Cross-posted on the
Official Google Blog
Public Policy blog
Earlier today, President Obama spoke about the importance of
helping returning military veterans find work
. Thousands of businesses have committed to hiring military veterans and families and as part of this nationwide effort, starting today, job seekers can visit the
National Resource Directory
(NRD) to search more than 500,000 job openings from employers around the country.
We have been working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a customized job search engine for the NRD, using
Google Custom Search
technology. This custom search engine uses the power and scale of Google search to constantly crawl the web, looking for
on sites like
to identify veteran-committed job openings. An employer can easily add a job posting to NRD simply by adding that markup to their own web page. As pages are updated or removed from the web, they’re automatically updated and removed from the system, keeping the available job postings on NRD fresh and up to date.
If you’re an employer, you can find
on how to participate on
. In addition, organizations such as local veterans' groups can help people find jobs by adding a veteran-committed jobs
to their websites.
We’re happy to contribute to this important initiative and hope businesses use this opportunity to connect with veterans seeking employment.
, Product Manager, Search
Giving you fresher, more recent search results
November 3, 2011
(Cross-posted on the
Official Google Blog
Search results, like warm cookies right out of the oven or cool refreshing fruit on a hot summer’s day, are best when they’re fresh. Even if you don’t specify it in your search, you probably want search results that are relevant and recent.
If I search for [
], I probably want information about next summer’s upcoming Olympics, not the 1900 Summer Olympics (the only time my favorite sport,
cricket, was played
). Google Search uses a freshness algorithm, designed to give you the most up-to-date results, so even when I just type [
] without specifying 2012, I still find what I’m looking for.
Given the incredibly fast pace at which information moves in today’s world, the most recent information can be from the last week, day or even minute, and depending on the search terms, the algorithm needs to be able to figure out if a result from a week ago about a TV show is recent, or if a result from a week ago about breaking news is too old.
We completed our
Caffeine web indexing system
last year, which allows us to crawl and index the web for fresh content quickly on an enormous scale. Building upon the momentum from Caffeine, today we’re making a significant improvement to our ranking algorithm that impacts roughly 35 percent of searches and better determines when to give you more up-to-date relevant results for these varying degrees of freshness.
Recent events or hot topics.
For recent events or hot topics that begin trending on the web, you want to find the latest information immediately. Now when you search for current events like [
occupy oakland protest
], or for the latest news about the [
], you’ll see more high-quality pages that might only be minutes old.
Regularly recurring events.
Some events take place on a regularly recurring basis, such as annual conferences like [
] or an event like the [
]. Without specifying with your keywords, it’s implied that you expect to see the most recent event, and not one from 50 years ago. There are also things that recur more frequently, so now when you’re searching for the latest [
dancing with the stars
] results or [
], you’ll see the latest information.
There are also searches for information that changes often, but isn’t really a hot topic or a recurring event. For example, if you’re researching the [
best slr cameras
], or you’re in the market for a new car and want [
subaru impreza reviews
], you probably want the most up to date information.
There are plenty of cases where results that are a few years old might still be useful for you. [
fast tomato sauce recipe
] certainly saved me after a call from my wife reminded me I had volunteered to make dinner! On the other hand, when I search for the [
], a result that is a week old might be too old.
Different searches have different freshness needs. This algorithmic improvement is designed to better understand how to differentiate between these kinds of searches and the level of freshness you need, and make sure you get the most up to the minute answers.
To clarify, when we say this algorithm impacted 35% of searches, we mean at least one result on the page was affected, as opposed to when we've said
impacted in the past, which means changes that are significant enough that an average user would notice. Using that same scale, this change
impacts 6 - 10% of searches, depending on the language and domain you're searching on.
Posted by Amit Singhal, Google Fellow
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