Google SearchWiki: more power to the people

Google today unveiled what it’s calling Google SearchWiki – a way for you, the user, to move its results up or down or add your own comments to results pages. Whilst these changes will by default only be seen by you, there is the option to open this up and see all comments anyone has made on a search page. Google is touting this feature as a way to give you more control over the search results you see. In order to use this service, you need a Google account and need to be logged in.

Little icons next to each result give you the ability to mark these up or down.

You can also add comments for each result, giving you a way to store information about common searches.

What this means for searchers

People use Google in many ways. For alot of these searches (eg. a navigational search to find the online site for ‘Best Buy’) this feature adds little value as Google generally gets these right. It is definitely more important for those doing research – perhaps working their way through each link down a results page looking for a potential product/service. In this instance you can potentially rank the providers and leave notes on those you find most useful.

I would expect the feature to be potentially more useful for ranking down bad results rather than promoting good ones – on the basis that it’s difficult to rank a result unless you have visited the site. A compelling site would hold you there – so you may never make it back to Google SearchWiki to leave your feedback.

Given that you can access all your comments on one screen, you can also use Google SearchWiki to build a history of web searches – in one, web-based location that hou can access from anywhere: home, at work, on the go. Hopefully in time Google will add some social capabilities to this, like a Del.icio.us or Friendfeed synch, so others can follow what searches you record.

What this means for website owners

For website owners, there is increasing pressure to produce good content – it’s not just about getting the top ranking (whether it ever has been is debatable). However, now, If you’re not giving the audience what it wants it’ll rank against you.

To ensure the ranking remains robust, it is definitely in Google’s interest to ensure the system can check spam and the votes of the unscrupulous. It’s the same cat-and-mouse game search engines have been playing against hardcore SEOs since search began, albeit with a social dimension.

Another aspect is that it is getting more difficult to know exactly what the audience sees – ranking reports are less accurate. Although a site owner may see them self rank highly for a given search, there is no guarantee their audience will see the same thing.

What this means for Google

Even if a very small percentage of users participate, Google will gain some valuable insight into how users perceive its rankings. As ZDNet put it:

“Google has the scale to take all of that user input, analyze it and potentially refine its algorithms. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll use this too much, but Google has millions of users that may contribute. Rivals may have the same technology for these search tools, but Google has the scale to actually get a lot of data to mine.”

Google themselves are obviously playing up the additional benefit to their customer: the search user base. According to Juergen Galler, director of product management at Google:

“We’ve always said that the best search engine is the one that understands what the individual user wants”
(Quote from the UK Telegraph)

So, just in time for Thanksgiving here in the US, Google rolls out the biggest improvement to search since Universal (or Blended) Search appeared 18 months ago. This gives the other search engines something more than turkey to ruminate over in this holiday season.

Read the Google release

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