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When Doesn't It Pay To Pay Attention To Search Quality?

By - October 08, 2008

Perhaps when the top result is the best result – and it’s a paid link.

Bad Results

Look at the image of my search results above.

I just now wanted to find the NLCS playoff schedule. I like baseball. I follow the National League, (NL) for the most part. Just about every fan of baseball (and there are millions of them) knows that “NLCS” is code for “National League Championship Series.

So I typed “NLCS playoff schedule” into Google. The results were terrible. The first result was for 2007, and it’s October! Playoffs, you know? Happening now? Google was pretty good at giving me the right results when I typed “Olympics” in last August. So I thought it was pretty safe to assume I’d get 2008 playoff schedules when I typed in that query. Alas, it was not to be.

So just in case Google was feeling a bit addled tonight, I added a “2008″ to the end to clarify: NLCS playoff schedule 2008.

The results are above. Of the *organic* results, the first is a blogspot blog – not worth clicking on, I mean, I wanted the official sked, right?This one is just for the Dodgers, and I’m a fan of blogs but…I didn’t want the Dodger’s sked, I wanted the whole NLCS. The second result was worse – an article from a baseball site, and it’s about player health. Huh?

The third site is a attempt to sell me tickets.

Google, am I not being specific enough for you? I very much doubt that your algorithms can’t figure out how to deliver exactly what I was asking for, especially during the playoffs.

Ncls Paid

But, wait a minute, there is one result that, should I click on it, will give me the answer I wanted. It’s at the top, and hey, look, Google even HIGHLIGHTED it for me!

Oh wait, doesn’t that highlight mean it’s a paid link? Oh well, never mind that. It’s the first link, and we all know that everyone clicks on the first link. Google may have failed at organic search, but it saved its bacon – and paid for it – through AdWords. Let’s just hope for Google’s sake that folks continue to ignore that “I’m feeling lucky” button. Unless, of course, it’s routed through a paid link.

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  • sh3n3rd

    I’ve always wondered..what DOES the “I’m feeling lucky” button do?
    Best amusing google feature: clicking the tiny little word “preferences” and changing the language to “Elmer Fudd”. The button then actually says “I’m feewing wucky”. :)

  • http://sports.net.in nmw

    John, I read only down to “Alas it was not to be” — and I thought: You are mixing up *GLOBAL* language with *BASEBALL* dialect.

    I immediately went to mlb.com and tried your search there. It went so-so. At any rate there was a “post season schedule” link in the navigation.

    Then I tried baseball.com. Again, the navigation worked fine: “MLB Playoffs” were front and center and there immediately followed a “Full Schedule” link.

    Now it could be that since you wrote this article MLB.COM and Baseball.COM went and changed their websites (though I kind of doubt it).

    The *SIMPLE* solution is to use the search engine most appropriate to *your* dialect. I’ll bet there are even better tailored sites available than MLB.COM or Baseball.COM — but the point is: I was able to pull those two results out of my sleeve faster than Google could.

    Now I *will* grant you that I *did* see MLB.COM in your image — and also the fact that I know that “Major League Baseball” is the registrant of MLB.COM is perhaps not “common knowledge” — the “Baseball” is.

    QED.

    :) nmw

  • http://vidology.com Vidology 80s videos

    basically MLB unnecessarily paid for your click because Google’s results weren’t accurate.

  • http://battellemedia.com John Battelle

    @nmw nope. Google is the engine I use. Hell, the search I did was while logged in, and they had my search history, and they must have seen Lord knows how many searches for stuff that pegs me as a baseball fan.

    World issues have nothing to do with this. It’s what @Vidology said: the organic results were bad, but the AdWords was not.

  • http://wiseyoda.blogspot.com/ Patrick Patterson

    Wouldn’t these be more about the people at MLB.com realizing the organic ineffectiveness, seeing an opportunity, and paying for the keyword? This might also be a testament to how poorly MLB (or any site that would carry NLCS coverage) actually optimizes their site for SEO. Either way, I don’t know if we can blame or praise Google for any of this. Can we?

  • http://video.net.in nmw

    @Vidology: very good point — and one that has been made on SearchBlog time and again.

    Google does NOT WANT you to click on organic results.

  • http://jargon.name nmw

    @Patrick (& John): I think we ought to blame the user — who (since he/she already knows the term “NLCS”) ought to know to look under “Baseball” (i.e. Baseball.COM — or perhaps another “Baseball” domain) or to go directly to MLB.COM (which ought to be in the jargon of the baseball aficionado).

  • http://www.searchenginecaffe.com Jeff Dalton

    It looks like a problem with query expansion. Google often expands a query beyond the original search terms to try and capture what you meant, rather than exactly what you said.

    In this case it looks like it expanded NLCS to NLDS. I’ve noticed more of these recently. Try replacing [NLCS...] with [+NLCS...] to force the search and the results improve dramatically

  • http://infopro.biz nmw

    @myself (as “information scientist”): traditionally, this has been the role of the “information professional” — to “translate” the user’s query into the form that is “appropriate” to the information retrieval system (e.g. that’s what a “library professional” does / should do in a “library”)

  • http://fachjargon.info nmw

    @John: re “GLOBAL”

    I do not know all of the languages spoken on Earth — therefore I cannot speak with authority on the use of the term “NLCS” internationally (cf. http://www.acronymattic.com/NLCS.html for a couple dozen such uses — probably far less than all of them).

    But this is precisely one of the most fundamental reasons why Google fails: it uses (sorry, I have to say it again): a “one-size, fits-all” approach.

    The fact is: it is wrong to assume that the entire world speaks only one language. What is more: it would also be inefficient (because atomic physicists need to use other terms than brain surgeons or auto mechanics — or baseball fans ;)

  • Grant

    You could try using Yahoo!, where the top result for [NLCS playoff schedule] lands you on an ESPN giving you the MLB playoff schedule for 2008. For the query [NLCS playoff schedule 2008], the results aren’t as good, but the third result there gives you a great CBS Sportsline page that gives the exact schedule.

    Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

  • JG

    I think John is right. The search should have worked.

    I think Patrick P. is right. Given that the search didn’t work, it makes sense that MLB would place the ad.

    I think nmw is right. With the ad in place, Google would rather you click the ad than an organic link. They can claim that the end focus is the user, and as long as the user is satisfied and gets the result, they’ve done their job.

    It speaks to a point that I have wondered about for years, and have never come any closer to any kind of definitive answer. While it is true that Google doesn’t directly intermingle the ads with the organic results, are there other, less direct but just as pronounced, effects that ads have on SERPs?

    For example, the Google search quality team probably has a list of things that they want to do to improve search. Y’know.. they made 450 whitespace tweaks to the algorithm last year, or whatever it was. So they’re trying to tweak things like this, make ‘em better. But they only have 7,000 people busily working on search and not wasting their time on Chat and Calendar and mobile phone operating systems. That’s obviously too few people to do everything at once; they have to prioritize.

    So is it ever the case, I have to wonder, that queries like John’s get put lower on the search quality team’s priority queue?

    Because obviously there has to be *some* team at Google that looks at the click behavior on a page as a whole — SERPs *and* ads. That team isn’t so isolated that they can know when someone clicks an SERP, but not an ad, right? Somewhere inside the company that firewall between SERP and ad disappears, right?

    And when that firewall disappears, and the search quality team does know that the user’s information need was satisfied, but through an ad, not through a SERP, there may be a decision to leave that query alone and solve *other* problems first, i.e. searches in which a user doesn’t click anything at all.. ad or SERP.

    And if that’s the case, if fixing queries like John’s aren’t prioritized, then there exists a de facto process by which users are shepherded into clicking more ads than they otherwise would have.

    So all I have ever heard Google say is that ads don’t affect the ranking of the SERPs. Proactively. But what they don’t say is whether there is a sort of quid pro quo prioritization on certain types of queries.. where changes aren’t made as rapidly or as dramatically to queries that are showing themselves to be big $$ earners — even if those queries themselves have terrible SERPs.

    What I would really like to hear someone official at Google say is that, yes, there is a strong firewall between the two halves of the company.. the search half and the ad half. And no one on the search half knows the ad clickthrough rates for all the queries, and no one on the ad half knows the search clickthrough rates. The internal firewall cleanly separates the SERP knowledge from the ad knowledge, and no one at the company knows both, except for maybe 3-4 top execs. I really would like to know whether this is the case or not.

    Finally, Grant is right as well. One of the worst possible behaviours that we, as end users and information seekers, can exhibit is to only rely on a single source of information for all of our needs. We have to be savvy enough ourselves to not only know how to sample from multiple sources (Goog, Yahoo, Ask, Live, etc.), but to actually do so on a regular basis. If we become lazy, and only ever turn to a single source, no matter what that source is, then we’re part of the problem. Grant is right. We shouldn’t be surprised when another source works better for certain queries. Because we should be training ourselves to be familiar with lots of different sources.

  • http://sponsored-links.net nmw

    Interesting — and though I’ve really hogged the number of responses here — I’ll nonetheless reply once again (because JG raises, IMHO, a very important issue) — the important issue is:

    Does Google consider advertisers to be “users” or not?

    Advertisers pay cash.

    Searchers pay with time and/or ripped-out hair.

    If Google raised the rate MLB had to pay 1000x (as they apparently did with sourcetool.com), then presumably the MLB ad would no longer appear. If the MLB ad no longer appears, then people will more readily realize that Google search results suck. If people realize that Google search results suck, they will begin to realize that baseball.COM and/or MLB.COM are good sources for information about the National League Championship Series (NLCS).

    Once that happens GOOG stock will become completely worthless, and the wisdom of the language will prevail.

    How long will that take? Is that a good question to ask? Will we someday no longer care about cached results — will users demand “live” information? How long will it take before the users — both searchers and advertisers — take back the Internet and proclaim victory? Yahoo!?

  • http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ Matt Cutts

    “Google does NOT WANT you to click on organic results.”

    Of course that’s not true, nmw. That would be a short-sighted attitude that would hurt Google. The more reasonable explanation is that out of hundreds of millions of queries/day, we can’t get everything single query perfectly right–even though we want to.

    John, here are a few thoughts:
    - I’m not a baseball fan, so I hadn’t heard of “NLCS”. I did the query [national league playoff schedule] and that returns mlb.com at #1, including with a helpful “Schedule” sitelink.

    - Very recent info can be hard to nail perfectly–was this information just finalized or announced recently? When I do the query this morning, I see a great #1 result from knucklecurve that was published yesterday. To find/crawl/index and then correctly rank a helpful blog post within a few hours is tricky, but I think Google is doing good things on this query now (with no hand-made changes, of course). It sounds like you were doing a breaking news time-based query, and only very recently were we able to find useful info and then rank it well.

    - John, you complained about the site that was trying to sell tickets, but if you click to that page–it did have the information you were looking for, including a full post-season schedule breakdown. The name of the blog was unfortunate, but that specific post had high-quality info and wasn’t pushing to sell tickets that hard.

    - Baseball fans know what NLCS is, but it’s a pretty obscure term (I’ve never heard of it). When I visit the ad’s landing page–which has been moved to the right-hand side at this point–I land on http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/schedule/ps.jsp . But the word “NLCS” does not occur on that page. I see the words “2008 MLB Postseason Schedule” and “National League” but not “NLCS.” So you’re asking Google to be smart enough to know that NLCS means national league championship series. That can be hard.

    At any rate, I very much appreciate the feedback. By the time I checked this morning, all of the first three organic results give NLCS schedule info, but it’s always useful to get feedback on queries where we can improve. I appreciate the feedback and will ask other folks at Google to look at what else we can do (e.g. better synonyms) that would have helped with this query.

  • http://pornographiqueso.com nmw

    Well, then… — I guess there’s no place like Google ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZR64EF3OpA ) — but if there were, then it would definitely not hurt, because anything that might hurt sounds rather ungoogley to me…

    At any rate, it’s good to hear that Google is now working on creating a direct link from the term “NLCS” to the MLB.COM site with the post-season schedule — that seems like a very non-evil solution to me (though I too cannot recall searching for NLCS recently)….

    So I guess we can all go home or Google or Yahoo or Live or Ask or whatever — and we can all rest assured that we’ll be able to find our baseball information (even when we type in something else besides “baseball” :)

  • JG

    C’mon, Matt.. no comment on any sort of firewall between SERP stats and ad stats? Do you or do you not know, on per-query bases, what is being clicked on the page as a whole (both ad and result)?

    For example, if someone runs a query, and doesn’t click a single organic result, is that all you know? Or do you also get to know whether or not they clicked an ad, instead?

  • JG

    “Google does NOT WANT you to click on organic results.” Of course that’s not true, nmw. That would be a short-sighted attitude that would hurt Google. The more reasonable explanation is that out of hundreds of millions of queries/day, we can’t get everything single query perfectly right–even though we want to.

    I believe your more reasonable explanation, Matt.

    No one faults you for the fact that some queries are more difficult than others. And no one faults you that you don’t get every single query right. No one does. We’re all information retrievalists here. We know that is the way this stuff works, and that it’s not your fault. It’s been true for 40 years, and will continue to be true for 40 more years.

    But this is why my question (which you seem to have ignored) was about prioritizing the improvement of those poorly performing queries.

    You have to make choices about what queries to try and improve.

    And it seems to me that if your choice about which queries you’re going to try and improve are influenced in any way by the ad clickthrough rates, then I would take issue with that.

    I can imagine that there might even have been some sort of internal “level of evil” discussion. And someone at the table probably said something like “well, if a user is running a query, and doesn’t click an organic result, but does click an ad.. well.. then at least Google is providing *some* sort of better overall outcome than another query in which nothing was clicked. So, let’s work on those other queries first, and not bother as much with the ones that get ad clicks.”

    There was probably even rationalization from someone at the table, I imagine (though of course don’t know for sure) about how prioritizing things in this manner is *not* a short-sighted outcome, how it is an example of Google putting the user first, by making sure that at least something on the page is clickworthy, even if it’s not an organic result.

    But if any discussion like that ever happened, I submit to you that it’s a dangerous precedent. It would demonstrate that ads and organic results are *not* independent — something that Google has claimed for a decade.

    So again.. what’s the story? Do you get personal knowledge of ad vs. organic result clickthrough rates, for a query? Or is there an internal firewall in the company, so that no one can see the intersections between both types of clickthroughs?

    Because again, if you, or someone in a similar, decision-making position, does have that knowledge, and acts on it to prioritize which queries gets improved, then you’ve effectively created a de facto situation that is exactly as nmw says: The user ends up not clicking on the organic results, anyway, because they’re in a state of disrepair. You may not directly forcing the user to click ads. But you are conditioning and grooming the user into patterns of behavior that gets them to act that way, anyway.

  • http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ Matt Cutts

    JG, apologies for not responding to your comment–I wanted to respond to John and only got down to nmw’s comment before starting my own comment, so I didn’t see your comment.

    “if your choice about which queries you’re going to try and improve are influenced in any way by the ad clickthrough rates, then I would take issue with that.”

    I would too, JG. I’ve never been sitting a table where people said “Oh, it’s okay to suck at these types of queries a little bit, because then people will click on ads instead.” That entire way of looking at things would be anathema in the search quality group here at Google. If anything, we’d be more likely to go the other direction–to look for queries where users click on ads and say “maybe we’re not doing well on those queries–can we improve those organic search results?” But even that is a foreign concept to me because I just don’t think about our ads or ads quality on a daily basis; ads is not search quality’s job. The search quality group’s job is to improve our organic search results, period. And we love to hear queries like this where we didn’t do as well as we wanted to. It’s safe to assume that several people at Google have read this thread and are discussing our freshness, synonyms, and other ways to improve this query.

  • http://galaxyspectrum.com/ AD PR SEO

    Did someone just hack Matt’s blog?
    What is this strange link being given.

    http://www.freezepage.com/1223592098WJYMQVUTNJ

  • JG

    JG, apologies

    No worries!

    “Oh, it’s okay to suck at these types of queries a little bit, because then people will click on ads instead.”

    That’s not what I said. At all. I said, “We have a lot of work to do. There are millions of queries out there that need our attention. Let’s prioritize the ones where no one is clicking anything on the page, before we look at the ones where someone is at least clicking an ad — because at least in the latter case that person got closer to getting their info need satisfied, even if it wasn’t through an organic result.”

    I did claim that this attitude would be equivalent to saying “it’s ok to suck on these few queries, because we have ads”, but I didn’t actually say that you would directly think it. Only that the outcome would effectively be the same, if you did do this sort of good-intentioned (“look, we’re helpign the users”) prioritization.

    But you say that you wouldn’t even think like that at all? Because “The search quality group’s job is to improve our organic search results, period“?

    That does lay it out pretty clear. Thank you. Well, pretty almost clear. There is one remaining detail.

    I need to know whether I can safely and truthfully say the following two things:

    (1) Can I say that, in your (Cutts group) work, you utilize zero knowledge of any clicks or interactions that are happening in the ad portion of the results page? Is it true that all you know is whether or not someone clicked one of the 10 blue links (or spelling suggestion or likewise), and cannot distinguish (from your perspective at least, in the search team) a page on which the user did not click at all from a page on which the user clicked an ad?

    (Note that this also must imply that the ad team has zero knowledge of any clicks that happen in the organic results.)

    (2) Can I say that there does *not* exist another team at Google, separate from the Cutts group, who is responsible for the user experience and interaction on the overall (whole) query results page? That is to say, there does not exist another team that is aware of clicks happening both in the ads and in the organic results?

    Or, if such a team does exist, can I truthfully say that this team does not communicate with you in any way about their full-page knowledge; they do not give you information about what is happening on the other (advertising) half of the page that could in any way sway the 450 tweaks/year that you make to your algorithms — neither the way the tweak actually works, nor even which 450 of the possible 5,000 tweaks that you could decide to work on?

    A simple “yes” and “yes” to both (1) and (2) would suffice, if both those things are indeed true.

    You’ll have to forgive me if I appear to be belabouring this point. I would like to take you/Google at your word, but as a user I’ve seen too many inconsistencies over the years (e.g. Google claims not to do banner advertising, and then I see Google banner advertising less than a week later!) for me to know for sure. In particular, I keep going back to the original WWW paper that started Google, in which Brin and Page said:

    “Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users…[snip]…It is clear that a search engine which was taking money for showing cellular phone ads would have difficulty justifying the page that our system returned to its paying advertisers. For this type of reason and historical experience with other media [Bagdikian 83], we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.”

    I would like to better understand why we should no longer fear this from Google. Why somehow Google has managed to avoid the very incentives that Google’s founders essentially proclaimed as inevitable. How did Google manage to remain so pure?

  • JG

    If anything, we’d be more likely to go the other direction–to look for queries where users click on ads and say “maybe we’re not doing well on those queries–can we improve those organic search results?” But even that is a foreign concept to me because I just don’t think about our ads or ads quality on a daily basis; ads is not search quality’s job. The search quality group’s job is to improve our organic search results, period.

    A related question, but separate from the two questions that I’ve asked above (which still only require a “yes” answer, if I’ve gotten ‘em right):

    If the search quality group’s job is to improve your organic results, period, then do you have the power or the sway to be able to say: “For this query, there is a lot of relevant material, and lots of different, relevant aspects to the information need. Therefore, we need to kick any and all advertisements off of the right hand side of the page so that we can show 20 results on the page, side by side, rather than 10. This will help us improve the overall quality of the organic results as a whole”?

    Independent of how relevant or not relevant any related advertisements may be to a query, do you have a the power to force not only the removal of all advertising, but to take over both columns of the results page and fill them with organic relevant information?

    Or are you limited, in your pursuit of quality relevant information, to a single, left hand side column?

    Note that I am specifically NOT asking whether you show fewer advertisements in order to make the quality of the remaining advertisements better. I know Google strives to do this. What I am instead asking is whether, in your pursuit of organic relevance, you are able to kick even highly relevant advertisements off of the results page, in order to provide even higher quality, more relevant organic information?

  • Xin

    Did you try live search? The first result is MLB, and the third is ESPN.

  • http://e-book-archive.blogspot.com/ Book

    If the search quality group’s job is to improve your organic results, period, then do you have the power or the sway to be able to say: “For this query, there is a lot of relevant material, and lots of different, relevant aspects to the information need. Therefore, we need to kick any and all advertisements off of the right hand side of the page so that we can show 20 results on the page, side by side, rather than 10. This will help us improve the overall quality of the organic results as a whole”?

  • http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ Matt Cutts

    “Did you try live search? The first result is MLB, and the third is ESPN.”

    Xin, look deeper. That #1 MLB result on live.com is from 2007 (last year), not this year.

    Book, we think of ads as useful-but-independent information in their own right. The ads team tries to show more relevant (which can also mean fewer) ads, and the search quality group tries to show more relevant search results. The systems are currently orthogonal and independent, so search quality wouldn’t have the ability to say “Don’t show any ads for this query” in the same way that the ads group wouldn’t have the ability to say “Don’t show any organic results for this query.”

    We have done tests to see whether showing 20 results is more or less helpful (it tends to be less helpful). We’ve also run tests to fit more information into the same amount of space, e.g. doubling up our video boxes for a search such as [matt cutts].

    JG, it’s unclear if you’re talking about online (as the search results are being computed) or offline (e.g. doing new research on ways to improve our algorithms). If you mean online, I don’t think my webspam group’s code has any knowledge of whether or how many ads might show for a query. I believe the query is sent to the ads system and the indexing system independently and then merged at the last millisecond before showing the results to the user. See the Google Cluster Architecture paper that was published not long ago at http://www.scribd.com/doc/312186/THE-GOOGLE-CLUSTER-ARCHITECTURE for example.

    We certainly do have a group that evaluates the whole page of search results for quality, but not in the way you are worried about. Their job is to tell search quality whether a given change is an improvement or not, and even though they can look at the entire page, their job is to help us improve our organic search results, not to encourage us to earn any more money. You can read about the search evaluation group at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/search-evaluation-at-google.html to see that it’s not doing the job you’re worrying about.

  • JG

    Matt: Actually, I think the Book fellow that you are responding to is a bot. His comment is spam. He’s quoting me, in another question to you, up above. Check that out for the longer, non-bot version.

    But you pretty much answered my question anyway, so thank you. You say:

    The systems are currently orthogonal and independent, so search quality wouldn’t have the ability to say “Don’t show any ads for this query” in the same way that the ads group wouldn’t have the ability to say “Don’t show any organic results for this query.”

    I ask this question because I have this notion of relevance from the end-user perspective.. how ultimately all the user cares about is meeting his or her information need.

    And in service of that information need, there must exist a theoretical best ordering of all possible information available online — web pages, videos, images, and yes, even ads.

    And in that best ordering, it is also very possible that the best advertisement has a relevance score, or a relevance value, equal to (let’s say) the 73rd-ranked web page. That is to say, the top 72 web pages are *all* more relevant than the rank#1 advertisement.

    So it seems to me the “right” or “non-evil” thing to do would be to wait to show an advertisement, until the 72nd organic result had been reached by the user. And filling the remaining space with the more relevant organic results.

    By instead promoting an advertisement to the very top of the results page, and putting it on (separate but) equal par with the top organic result, you are really not serving the user’s best interests. You’re cluttering up their interface and wasting all that valuable space.

    Note that I am not talking about showing fewer ads. I’m still talking about showing the appropriate, relevant number of ads. But you should wait to show them until there no longer exists more relevant organic information. You shouldn’t automatically promote every single ad to the very top of the right column. It’s an anti-user, anti-relevance stance, imho.

    And note that I am also not talking about mixing the ad in with the results. No, still keep them separate and clearly delineated. I’m just saying that the ad, even in its separate position, shouldn’t slide its way up to the top, when more relevant organic information is available.

    Stated in another fashion, I am essentially asking you why Google does not dynamically resize the amount of information presented on the first page. Why is it always the exact same format.. 10 objects. It’s almost like there is no awareness on Google’s part that some topics and queries are smaller, and some are much better. It always only 10, every single time.

    (And I know, I can set the default to 50, or 100, but that misses the point. If I reset the number of links, then it would be always 50 or always 100. And it would still not dynamically resize based on my query.)

  • JG

    JG, it’s unclear if you’re talking about online (as the search results are being computed) or offline (e.g. doing new research on ways to improve our algorithms). If you mean online, I don’t think my webspam group’s code has any knowledge of whether or how many ads might show for a query. I believe the query is sent to the ads system and the indexing system independently and then merged at the last millisecond before showing the results to the user.

    I apologize that I am not being more clear about this. I am talking about offline.

    All throughout this, I’ve asked you multiple times about the method by which query fixes and feature tweaks are prioritized, as a result of whole-page clickthrough behavior. Query fixes and feature tweaks are not something that you do, online, any more than a hand-drawn cartoon could be filmed before a live studio audience. They’re what you do for research. Offline.

    So again, let me just requote what I already wrote above:

    I wrote: Or, if such a team does exist, can I truthfully say that this team does not communicate with you in any way about their full-page knowledge; they do not give you information about what is happening on the other (advertising) half of the page that could in any way sway the 450 tweaks/year that you make to your algorithms — neither the way the tweak actually works, nor even which 450 of the possible 5,000 tweaks that you could decide to work on?

    So yes, you do have a group that looks at the whole page. That’s fine. But when they look at the whole page, what do they do with the knowledge of how the activity is split between organic clicks and ad clicks? Why does anyone even bother measuring it, if the firewall in place ensures that no one ever uses this joint knowledge?

    If all they do it just tell you when a change is better or not (presumably by doing some sort of NDCG calculations or whatever), why do they need to look at the whole page? Are you telling me that there is a group that looks at the page as a whole, but then makes recommendations to you based solely on the organic results? Why don’t you just have a team that looks at the organic results? (And then a separate team that just looks at ad quality results?)

    Their job is to tell search quality whether a given change is an improvement or not, and even though they can look at the entire page, their job is to help us improve our organic search results, not to encourage us to earn any more money.

    I am not saying that they directly encourage you to earn more money. I’m asking about more indirect influences here.

    Look: You have to decide at some point what changes you are going to make to your algorithms, and why. You have to collect a bunch of sample queries that are not performing well, or look for new queries that no one has yet examined, and then look for patterns in those queries, to try to create new tweaks.

    And what you are telling me, let me make sure I absolutely understand, is that the team that looks at the page as a whole, and feeds you those poorly performing queries.. uses absolutely no knowledge of anything else that either was displayed or was interacted with on that page, to tell you whether or not to work on a particular query? The queries that they feed you as examples for you to work on.. those are chosen by the “whole page team” in a manner so as to have nothing to do with anything else that happened on that page, in that query?

    I don’t know how I can be more clear than that.

    Just a simple “yes” would suffice, if true. And you’re also welcome to say “bugger off, JG” if my persistence has got you annoyed. But I feel like we keep dancing around the core of my concern, and I’d just like a satisfactory answer.

    Cheers.

  • xin

    @matt,

    thanks for correction. it looks live is one year late…

  • http://filmcomposerblog.com John Piscitello

    If you try “baseball playoff schedule”, “NL playoff schedule” or “national league playoff schedule” or “NL playoff schedule”, you get the answer in the #2 and #3 results (#1 is mlb.com homepage, which is actually very difficult to navigate).

    NLCS is probably a fairly uncommon way to place the query. Who calls it that, except for people in the media?

    Perhaps it’s a bit of a conspiracy theory to suggest Google is purposely making bad search results in order to drive ad clicks. Really this is an example of why search is so hard a problem – everyone has their own way of placing the question, and it’s hard to do a good job on all of them.

  • http://stocks.net.in nmw

    I posted some quotes from GOOG’s Q3 Earnings Call — including some related to topics discussed here.

    See: http://gaggle.info/post/98/google-earnings-call-nobody-wants-to-turn-away-a-customer

    :) nmw

  • Andrew

    This is why I use Yahoo search. It’s less gamed than Google’s, and i get better results from it. Google is the best for timeliness though (i.e. searching for blog posts made within the past 24 hr).

  • http://misspelled.name nmw

    Ben Edelman (via Register.CO.UK):

    “Google could do more [to stop typo-squatting] if they wanted to. But they profit from each and every click that’s associated with these practices, so they have every incentive to look the other way.”

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/10/23/google_and_typosquatting