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April 20, 2008

Recent Searches To Influence Google's Results

Danny Sullivan reported earlier this month that Google will start to personalize search results based on the previous query. "For example, if someone were to search for [spain] and then [travel] after that, BOTH the ads and the organic results will be altered to take the previous query into account. To some degree, it will be as if the second query was for [spain travel]." According to some code from Google's sites, Google will use not just the previous query, but a list of recent queries.

Until now, Google personalized the results based on the search history only for users that were logged in and enabled the Web History service. Google created a profile from your search history and used it to disambiguate your queries and slightly alter the rankings for pages that were likely to match your interests.

The new signal for personalizing results (recent searches) should work without having to log in and could influence the results in a different way. In many cases, people constantly refine their queries by adding or removing keywords, but Google and other search engines don't use all these refinements to improve the results in real time. By connecting the related searches from a session, Google will understand more from what you intend to find and should deliver better results.

While search history disambiguates general queries, the list of recent searches connects the failed attempts to find an answer for a complex query and creates a more detailed description of your intentions. Search history could be Google's long-term memory and the recent queries could build the working memory.

Google search patterns (from "Searching for the mind of the searcher" [PDF], by Daniel Russell)


  1. I have been seeing this kind of behavior for my account lately, and It's getting quite annoying; I'm a Linux user, therefore I search for specific info constantly, the kind you just want to view and then discard, and by logging my previous queries Google is adding noise to my searches.

    Privacy issues aside, I do believe there should be a way to manage which queries you want to add to your search history.

    Algorithms can only understand what I'm looking for to an extent, this is borderline intolerable.

  2. I agree with Anonymous: the lack of transparency is sure path to artificial stupidity. Maybe that's fine for the ads, but I'd rather have explicit control over the search process.

  3. @Daniel:
    It seems that Google will start to show what previous queries were used to personalize your results and will also add an option to see the standard (unpersonalized) results.

  4. I really wish Google would allow each user to download his complete web search history for personal use. I give this data to Google, shouldn't they allow us to get it back?

    This would perfectly fit in Google's "open data" philosophy and "don't be evil" motto.

  5. You can download your search (web) history as a RSS feed:

    (replace 100 with the number of items you want in the feed)

    To restrict the items to web searches and remove image searches, Google News or the web history, use:

  6. This is a great tip, thanks!

  7. Seems like a checkbox allowing you to turn on or off the use of previous searches would be a good middle ground option. Or maybe a way to remove searches from what it's looking at. I sometimes search for pretty obscure stuff and wouldn't want that to necessarily skew search results.

    As a user I think this could be a good thing though. Seems like anything that leads to better search results is good. Although there do seem to be some potentially bad privacy issues.

    As a web developer I don't know what to think yet. It seems like it's going to make it harder to get traffic for certain phrases, but will also allow sites that normally don't get the traffic to pick up some.

  8. I think this feature may benefit some, but it's sure to annoy plenty of others. It's great if they're going to have an option to turn it off, and hopefully it's easy to figure out how to do that.

  9. Indeed, one of the problems with this or any other black-box personalization approach is that searches are less portable. Of course I'd like better search results, but what I'd really like are predictable search results. This feature strikes me as marginally improving quality at the expense of predictability.

  10. Customize Google, a firefox extension, was recommended to me by a cyber security expert ( You can install it in firefox, then configure it so that google can't track you while you're using their standard apps (email, docs, calendar, reader, etc). It makes google transactions secure (https) EXCEPT search, of course, because google doesn't offer https for search. But, still, there is another additional option you can select to NOT send ANY information to google. Too bad that I went so long without using it. I wonder what sorts of information google has collected and stored about me. Bastards.

  11. The Algorithms if used to improve the searches will be a benefit and save time. I am tired of having to scour over useless website while trying to learn how to make money online.

  12. I really wish Google would allow each user to download his complete web search history for personal use. I give this data to Google, shouldn't they allow us to get it back?


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