Interesting that Google has let the Times behind the curtain to interview Amit Singhal and Udi Manber, two of the high priests of Google’s most important work – search ranking and quality. Saul Hansell, the author, called me for some thoughts and was kind enough to include a few of my thoughts in the piece.
Google recently allowed a reporter from The New York Times to spend a day with Mr. Singhal and others in the search-quality team, observing some internal meetings and talking to several top engineers. There were many questions that Google wouldn’t answer. But the engineers still explained more than they ever have before in the news media about how their search system works.
Indeed, for those of you who geek out on this stuff, there are clues to a number of things in here. Witness:
In 2005, Bill Brougher, a Google product manager, complained that typing the phrase “teak patio Palo Alto” didn’t return a local store called the Teak Patio.
So Mr. Singhal fired up one of Google’s prized and closely guarded internal programs, called Debug, which shows how its computers evaluate each query and each Web page. He discovered that Theteakpatio.com did not show up because Google’s formulas were not giving enough importance to links from other sites about Palo Alto.
It was also a clue to a bigger problem. Finding local businesses is important to users, but Google often has to rely on only a handful of sites for clues about which businesses are best. Within two months of Mr. Brougher’s complaint, Mr. Singhal’s group had written a new mathematical formula to handle queries for hometown shops.
There is also an interesting discussion of freshness and how that relates to ranking (watch for mentions of “QDF”). Worth the read.