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July 24, 2007

What You Need to Know to Get Better Search Results

In an interesting presentation titled "Searching for the mind of the searcher" [PDF], Daniel M. Russell from Google explains the problem of understanding the intent behind a user's search queries and how important is this task to measure user satisfaction.

Mr. Russell thinks there are four important "skills" that help you get better search results:

* know the search engine - how it works, its limitations, the advanced options

* use good search strategies - know when you need to use a more general or a more specific query, look at the search results critically and refine your query accordingly

* domain knowledge - you should know the terminology of a domain (it's hard to get information about a computer problem if you don't know the right terms)

* information mapping - categorize data, know if a site is authoritative, find the perfect query by combining the right keywords (a reverse dictionary might help)

While most of this knowledge is necessary only for information queries, it would be nice if Google had a query builder that guided you towards the perfect query. Of course, Google does it more subtly using related searches, spelling corrections or by automatically expanding some of your keywords.


  1. I know this has nothing to do with the post... but maybe you can help out here... I have been trying to get into gmail period but I can not even get to the log in page, i get the:
    "Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage"
    I have run the Diag On that page and such. Nothing seems wrong.
    And I cannot seem to get past that at all, I know my accounts are still there(from iGoogle) and such , but even when i click on 'mail' from igoogle.

    My Firewall(s) [Windows and my McAfee] arent blocking it at all. Hell I turned both of them off, and I still tried to access it and it still didnt work.

    I dont know what the problem is and I cant find ANY place to ask at all, and I cant seem to get anyone to help me out with this problem nor any webpages or blogs that deal with this.

    I didnt have a problem a month and a half ago (before i went into the hospital), then all of a sudden 2 days ago(been trying for 2 days), i couldnt access the loginwebpage.
    These I tried:

    I just dont know what the darn problem is. I dont think my router has anything to do with it since noone has access to it at all, and nothing has changed on/in it settings wise(nor firewall wise).

    Anyone have ANY ideas on why this is happening?

    -Anon in Arizona

  2. There were several high-level techniques missing that have helped me find things:
    1. Use exclusion. This is the fastest way to cut through search spam. If you know words that are definitely not in the desired hits, exclude them.
    2. Semantic intersection aka automatic clusters. This involves some more sophistication. This technique can get you past the need for domain knowledge. Using the meaningful search terms you already have, find other words that are common in the best hits. If you can find terms that are more unique to your goal use them to refine your query. Engines like mooter and flickr directly facilitate this but you can achieve a similar affect manually.
    3. Use the right tool. Make sure you are using a code search tool for finding code snippets and product searches to find products. Even though Google tries to help you out here, most of the time you can be on the right path to begin with.

  3. Hi all! Does anybody know where I can find video of this presentation. Was it a Google TechTalk?

  4. Some notes are available here and here. Interesting facts:


    * For North America, the average user performs 9.4 searches a week.

    * 60% of users perform one Google query or less a day.

    * Only 10% of users go to the next page of results.

    * Half of all clicks to the Advanced Search page result in the user abandoning their search, most likely because they are overwhelmed by the Advanced Search interface.

    * Most users look at 3 results before clicking on a result.

    * Many users "teleport"... instead of using Google to make a search (like searching for a flight), they search Google for a website from which they can then make their desired search.

    * The more query terms used in a search, the longer amount of time the user will spend examining the search results.


  5. Really interesting points there, Alex.

    I've actually noticed this myself as the years has passed. The more I know about the search engine, and where to get reliable information, the less I need to know about the actual subject myself.


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