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Search Index Grammars

By - April 26, 2007

Choices

During the conversation yesterday I mentioned something that I’ve been meaning to talk to you all about – the idea of different “grammars” for search indexes. Last week I changed my default engine from Google to Yahoo for a while. Now, Yahoo has a very good engine, and I know its results are, by some objective measures, as good if not better than Google’s results. But what I did not realize, given how long I’ve defaulted to Google, how significant an “accent” Yahoo has compared to the idiom I was used to by using Google. In short, I’m very fluent in navigating through the mass of unstructured results that Google offers me after I enter my two or three word keyword phrase. But with Yahoo, I often find myself conversing in a foreign tongue. Not that the language is better or worse, just….different. Interesting….

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8 thoughts on “Search Index Grammars

  1. Eric Goldman says:

    Maybe this suggests that there are higher switching costs between search engines than simply a few keystrokes/mouse clicks? Eric.

  2. Matt Cutts says:

    John, I know I’d love to hear examples if you can think of any..

  3. Antonio Dias says:

    I am surprised to hear that yahoo results are by some measures better than google’s. Would you kindly point us to nay you might recall?
    I am biased as I do most on my searches on foreign languages, where google results clearly stand out from yahoo/msn/local SEs.

  4. nmw says:

    How about this “shopping comparision”? ;D

    search.yahoo.com/search?p=keyword+phrase

    http://www.google.com/search?q=keyword+phrase

    quintura.com/quintura_savelink.html?request=keyword+phrase&searchvia=1&engineoverride=&page=1&savelink

    ( ?request=keyword+phrase&searchvia=1&engineoverride=&page=1&savelink )

    search.live.com/results.aspx?q=keyword+phrase

    (note “related” searches over sponsored links)

    http://www.ask.com/web?q=keyword+phrase

    (similarly, “narrow your search” suggestions at bottom)

  5. Mike says:

    Wife won’t use Google because she feels it’s been “gamed” to irrevelance by SEO and useless made for AdSense sites linked for many queries.
    I use Google from habit but more often I use it as a shortcut to Wikipedia. I value Google greatly for blog, image and video search. I greatly value my Google account including Gmail, AdWords, Groups and the small business center, not web search.
    Yahoo! Local trumps Google Maps, hell even Local.com does.
    Yahoo! values my blog content and though there is evidence Google is catching up Yahoo! appreciates my Blogspot works more than mother Google.
    Bottom line is Google web search plays to spamming SEOs and big advertisers. I don’t see it ever being a level playing field where decent content written by well intended little guys. You need “best practice”, expensive SEO to be seen on Google.

  6. JX says:

    Very true what you wrote here, John: Habit and search engine “accents” are important elements that will keep people from switching.

    I’ve also been thinking about Hakia.com and the others that are trying to solve the problem of natural language search: With a world raised on one and two word searches, will these natural language search engines be able to return good results at all? Will they be able to teach people to become verbose again? I actually doubt that that’ll happen in the short term.

  7. Rob M says:

    Hi John, one thing I noticed while using a blended search engine (like dogpile but home grown) was that Google is also polluted by long-standing high PageRank sites. The interesting phenomenon I saw was that over the years, I’d taken it for granted that those domains that you would see constantly were high quality and the best results. It turns out that most of the time that’s true, but for certain queries, there are better sites and Yahoo often finds them.

    The interesting thing about Yahoo, besides the slightly different dialect it speaks, is that the set of high PageRank sites are different, and they seem to blend them better. I work at Yahoo now, but not on search, so I use their engine full time. My wife uses Google, so we sometimes search for the same thing at the same time and look over each others’ shoulders.

    I agree that the switching cost is subtle but present in ways that people don’t always expect.

  8. nmw says:

    It’s almost like reading different books at the same time, or speaking different languages.

    That might be an interesting study: Do people who speak more than 1 language (relatively fluently) switch among search engines more readily. How about avid book readers (who read at least XX books per year)? Or how about “TV channel switchers”? …?