Bing, Google Going Head-to-Head On The Search Transparency Front

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Mar 6, 2012

Search results are important, especially to those who spend an inordinate time sitting in front of the blinking cursor on their favorite search engine, waiting for the next brilliant boolean search string to pop into their head. You would assume that knowing more about how search results are created would make it easier to find who you’re looking for on your favorite search engine, right?

As search providers become more open about how results are served and what factors are impacting top ranking, will this help people who live on the edge of search capabilities or only further muddy the waters?

Bing follows Google to become more transparent about search

As Search Engine Land posted yesterday, the folks at Bing recently wrote about how they’ve continued to evolve the way they’ve displayed search results in a series called Search Quality Insights. Here’s what Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land writes:

Unlike Google, Bing doesn’t really have an anti-trust transparency issue to deal with. Rather, Bing has an invisibility issue. Bing seems largely invisible to those who are wanting to search the web. Bing can (and does) have some of the same problems that will launch a million blog posts about Google. But no one cares, if they happen on Bing.

As for consumers in general, while Bing has grown its market share, that’s come mainly by pulling people away from Bing’s partner Yahoo, not from Google. Perhaps the new series will help focus more attention from consumers on Bing, which would be good. Bing’s an excellent search engine that should be considered.

While the Bing post makes for interesting fodder, especially for consumers who may have noticed some of those changes, there’s not much there for power users. And for those with even a rudimentary knowledge of boolean, consider yourself part of that 1% of top users. While Sullivan focuses mostly on the anti-trust issues with Google search, I’d like to shift to what Google is doing with its transparency parade that makes it a bit more useful for those who want to tackle the intricacies of how the search engine works.

Google’s path to transparency

Since late last year, Google has been giving updates on its search blog about the latest changes they are making to search results in a series called (I kid you not) Search Quality Highlights. Here’s what you’ll notice from the beginning: depth and specificity, especially in comparison to the piece at Bing. Each piece has a bullet pointed list of changes, along with links to bigger announcements about changes to the search engine. And while Bing’s piece focused a lot on display order and when they integrate news, video and photo results (things important to consumers), Google focuses on a list of changes that are important for people who use the search engine for power inquiries.

For example, in the February update posted last week, it mentioned a number of important changes that could potentially impact sourcers and researchers using the search engine:

  • Refreshed per-URL country information. [Launch codename “longdew”, project codename “country-id data refresh”] We updated the country associations for URLs to use more recent data.
  • “Site:” query update [launch codename “Semicolon”, project codename “Dice”] This change improves the ranking for queries using the “site:” operator by increasing the diversity of results.
  • Improvements to freshness. [launch codename “iotfreshweb”, project codename “Freshness”] We’ve applied new signals which help us surface fresh content in our results even more quickly than before.
  • Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.
  • Panda update. This launch refreshes data in the Panda system, making it more accurate and more sensitive to recent changes on the web.

Are you going to be able to crack Google’s algorithm with this information? No, not really. Do some of these updates leave more questions than answers (like, in what way do they plan to increase the diversity of the “site:” query)? Yes, absolutely.

On the brighter side, this can help in two ways. For one, it can help you figure out the possible root of a search query that turned out odd or different than you expected. And two, you can use this list as a place to start tinkering with query possibilities.

Ultimately, there is a hope that future updates from Bing will prove more substantial and detailed, pushing Google to even greater heights of transparency.