Is Google becoming a search engine driven by user behavior?

Thu 29 January 2009 15:00, Dennis Sievers

Is Google becoming a search engine driven by user behavior?

Normally I tend to write huge articles and posts. It is in my nature to write and write and write, and having problems to create a good ending, as there is so much to write about. But not this post (well, actually I do). I want to share my thoughts with you about where I think Google is heading with their search engine and hope to initiate a useful discussion about it.  Off course we don’t have a detailed view into Google’s Roadmap, but when we see Google's current developments, it seems like Google is heading for a search engine that is driven mainly by human behavior. Now, why do I think that’s the case? First of all, search is all about the user, so why won't the SERPS be? Lisa Ditlefsen wrote a nice article about search and the user, I can recommend it to you all. Second, Google is working on a few new tools and functionalities to give the user more control over the results.

Google's Search Wiki
For those who don't know Search Wiki yet (where have you been lately), Search Wiki is a new feature Google has implemented a few weeks ago. With Search Wiki, users can change the order of the search results, delete them or insert a result they think is relevant for a specific search query. Roy Huiskes wrote an interesting column about this new feature of Google, definitely worth the read if you haven’t read it already.


So, basically, users can influence the results directly by shifting them to their own preference. When this is done on a larger scale for specific keywords, this behavior, the users input, can be used in the algorithm to rank the results. Although this is not the case yet, Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice president of product Search and User experience, already declared that Google might use this information in the near future.

Google's Timeline Search
We know Google is always experimenting with new things. We all know Google Labs and experimental. In their lab also is an experiment called ‘alternate views for search’. Within that experiment, there is an option called Timeline. Basically, you can set a date limit on the results Google shows for a specific keyword. For instance, if you want to know what information has been published about a specific topic in a specific timeframe, you can find that information with Google Timeline by selecting the year(s) or month(s) wherein this information has been published. This functionality is still is in experimental phase, though.


A few weeks ago, some Googlers reported Google Timeline being seen on some queries in the main results. This could be a sign that the functionality will come out of experimental state this year. When users start adding date ranges to specific search queries, Google will get more insight in what users find relevant. For example, when 95% of the users add the current year for a specific keyword, Google knows that they can filter out all the older results algorithmically. On a large scale, this functionality, driven by human interaction with the search engine, also could automatically feed and influence the algorithm.

Google Analytics / SERPS Bounce Rates
Well, anyone who is keeping an eye on search via forums and blogs will agree on the fact that there is a lot of suspicion about Google using Google Analytics data for their algorithm. A lot of discussion has taken place about the fact that results with high bounce rates would be losing their positions. For more detailed information about this topic, I would like to refer to a topic on SEOHawk.

Next to the data Google Analytics collects, Google also measures clickthroughs on their search engine results pages. So, when a user clicks on the first results, returns within a second and goes for the second one, Google knows the user did not find what he or she was looking for at the first result.


When we take bounce rate in the context of this column, we see another user behavioral number that can be used by the algorithm to rank the results for specific keywords. If it is not used already.

To sum up
To keep the post within a certain amount of characters ;-), it is clear that Google is shifting more towards a search engine that is driven by user behavior. Google can and will determine the quality of results based on what users think of it, and use this information in their algorithm. Next to Search Wiki, Google Timeline and numbers like Bounce rate, Google is also working hard on other user driven functionalities, like personalized search and co-op. So, to open the discussion, where do you think Google is going with their search engine? What can we expect Google to do next to further improve their engine?

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