Search engines are the key to the web. Amid thousands of millions of webpages, hundreds of millions of videos uploaded and billions of words written, trying to reach your intended information manually is functionally close to impossible. As such, the ability to search for relevant information in a split second is highly valuable. With more and more people using the web, so too has the number of search requests made increased markedly, with this the metadata collected along with the refinements made to algorithms has meant that search engines are now vastly improved when compared to where they were in years past.
However, in what way do search engines such as Bing truly choose what is relevant to you? Such is the enduring struggle of the engineers behind the scenes on these projects. If you type the word ‘chocolate’ should you be shown links to buy chocolate, how to make chocolate or the historical origins of chocolate? Would it be more prudent to look at the date and offer deals on seasonal chocolate? With the myriad options on offer, it is no leap of faith to assume that the work is tiring and often complex, there is no equation to account for the fundamentally erratic nature of human behavior.
Michael Basilyan, Senior Program Manager at Bing, has attempted to remove some of the mystique surrounding this process and make the whole operation a little less opaque, by explaining a little more clearly how Bing decides what is really important for its users.
First, importantly, the key to effective search is shown to be accurate presentation. Naturally this is something that is refined over time, but search results must be easy to see and filter through and must be relevant to the topic selected. Too many visual elements can lead to overload, which can distract the user rather than allowing them to focus on what is important.
Secondly, the results themselves must be judged on accuracy. This has a great deal to do with how a particular website presents its information. Take for instance the provided example of ‘breast cancer symptoms’. The internet is overloaded with hogwash and homeopathic remedies, quacks and charlatans who are out to make a quick buck and who could potentially swamp results without effective filtering. As such, results from trusted medical sites with detailed and precise information regarding symptoms are far more useful to the end user, whose request is evidently of great personal significance.
As such the quality of the content is a great influence in how results are ranked, displayed by the equation shown above. ‘Topical Relevance’ regards whether it addresses the query, ‘Content Quality’ as judged by its presentation, utility and authority and ‘Context’ such as the user’s physical location among other things.
As can be seen, a great deal of thought goes into how our search engines work, and indeed as they become more sophisticated, so too does the work required to keep them running. So next time you fire up Bing to search for videos of moonwalking kittens, remember the poor boffin at the other end, guessing at the impossible context to your irrepressible whimsy.
Do you use Bing as your main search engine? Let us know in the comments below.