Study: Two-Thirds of Search Engine Users Don’t Want Personalized Results


According to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, most Internet users are, overall, quite happy with the results they find with their preferred search engines. One thing they don't like, though, is that these search engines are tracking them. Only 29% of search engine users in this study say that it's a good thing that these companies are tracking their searches and other information to personalize their results. A full 65% think that's a bad thing and 73% say that it's not okay for a search engine to track their searches.

Virtually the same numbers also apply to targeted advertising, where 67% say they don't want their online behavior to be tracked and only 28% say that they are fine with this.

Google, of course, has been making a major push by integrating personalized results very deeply into its search results through its "Search, Plus Your World" initiative.

It's worth noting, though, that younger search engine users are somewhat less concerned about being tracked (56%) and about their information being used to personalize search results.

There is also an interesting racial divide here, where 70% of white users are concerned about the so-called filter bubble and think it's a bad thing for search engines to limit "the information you get online and what search results you see." Among black and Hispanic search engine users, that number is only about 50%.

Most Don't Know How to Limit Online Tracking

Even though most people really don't like to be tracked, though, it's interesting that only 38% of respondents in this survey think they know how to limit the amount of information that websites are collecting about them. Most of them, for example, have deleted their web history (81%) and used the privacy settings of websites (75%).

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9:14 am

Google’s Flight Search Goes Mobile


Google today launched its flight search feature for mobile browsers. Since it acquired travel software provider ITA Software in 2011, Google has been very deliberate about rolling travel search into its main search engine. It first launched relatively limited version of its ITA-based stand-alone flight search feature in September 2011 and then integrated this tool deeper into its regular search results in December. Now, whenever you feel like taking a trip, you can also use Google to search for flights on your Android and iOS phones as well.

Mobile, But Still Limited

This means, you can now use the regular search feature in the browser on your phone to look for something like [flights from New York to Washington] and bring up the mobile flight search feature.

This new feature brings most of the desktop version's tools to the mobile version as well, including the ability to discover places on a map and the ability to find the cheapest dates to travel.

Even on mobile, Google's travel search tools is still the fastest in the business, but at the same time, though, it also suffers from the same limitations as the desktop version. You can't use a search query to specify specific dates, for example. If you do so, flight search won't even kick in. Flight search also still doesn't work for international destinations.

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3:20 pm

The Google Doctor Will See You Now: Google Improves Results for Health Searches


Google search is no substitute for actually visiting a doctor, but millions of people use the search engine to look up symptoms every day. Now, Google is making it a little bit easier to connect these symptoms with actual health conditions. The search engine will now automatically display a list of possible illnesses automatically when you search for a common symptom.

In it research, Google found that most searches for a symptom are followed by a search for a related condition. To save its users some time, the search engine's algorithms now automatically discover the kinds of conditions are related to certain symptoms.

health search symptoms on google

According to Google's chief health strategist Roni Zeiger, it's important to remember that this list is generated by algorithms and not authored by doctors.

It's worth noting that Microsoft's Bing, in partnership with the Mayo Clinic, has featured support for enhanced health search results for more than two years now.

10:13 am

How to Turn Off Google’s New Personal Results


Google launched its new "personal results" feature yesterday that now mixes more Google+ posts from you and the people you follow on the service into your regular search results pages. There is a lot of talk about how it's anticompetitive and a sign of Google abusing its legal monopoly in search to push Google+, but the reality is, "search+" as many have come to call it, just isn't very good or useful in most instances. For the most part, it just clutters up your search results with stuff you aren't looking for. Thankfully, Google makes it easy to turn this feature off. Here is how:

The Temporary Solution

Personal results  hide toggle

If you just want to see what your regular results without search+ would look like, you can just use the toggle in the top right corner of the screen. This selection isn't sticky, however, and Google will just revert to Search+ the next time you come back to Google to search (note: you will only see this toggle once Search+ is enable for your account).

If you want to switch the default to non-personalized results, though, you have to do a tiny little bit more work.

Personal results search settings

Going Nuclear

Step 1: head to the search settings menu by clicking on the cogwheel in the top right corner of the screen and click on "search settings"

Step 2: Scroll down a bit and look for the "Personal results" section. Select "Do not use personal results."

Search Settings

Step 3: Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and click on the blue "Save" button.

Search+ is now off by default, but you can still use the regular toggle to turn it on for this specific search session again.

4:24 pm

Google and Mozilla Renew Their Search Royalty Deal for at Least Three More Years


Mozilla, the organization behind the popular Firefox browser, is a non-profit organization and that status allows it to run experiments that a for-profit organization couldn't quite justify to its shareholders. It still has to make money, though, and the majority of the organization's income (84%) comes from a revenue-sharing partnership with Google. This cooperation ended in November, though. Given Google's own efforts in the browser market with Chrome, many wondered if Google would opt out of renewing its deal with Mozilla. We don't need to worry about the (financial) future of Firefox anymore, though, as Mozilla just announced that it has renewed its search relationship with Google for at least three additional years.

The exact details of agreement weren't disclosed, but both companies were obviously put into a somewhat awkward position, as Mozilla now had to make a deal with its biggest competitor and Google had to decided on whether it wanted to continue to help the only real competitor to Chrome. In the end, though, Google would have lost a lot of goodwill if it had decided against this deal.

It's not clear if Mozilla was also in talks with Microsoft to make a similar deal that would have made Bing the default search engine on Firefox. The company did release a special edition of its browser with Bing as the default in October, though.

8:13 pm

Google’s Crawler Now Automatically Detects Smartphone Content


Google today announced that its crawler for mobile sites, Googlebot-Mobile, can now detect smartphone-optimized content. The idea here is to ensure that Google’s mobile search can now direct searchers immediately to the smartphone-optimized version of a website. Typically, these sites redirect users to their smartphone sites when they detect a mobile browser. This introduces a slight amount of latency (generally around 0.5-1 seconds) and given Google’s general efforts to speed up the web, this is obviously something the company would like to avoid as it tries to get searchers to their destination as fast as possible.

According to Google, the content crawled by its smartphone-optimized crawler will obviously “be used primarily to improve the user experience on mobile search. For example, the new crawler may discover content specifically optimized to be browsed on smartphones as well as smartphone-specific redirects.”

Google is also reminding publishers to treat Google’s bots just like they would treat a human user. The company’s search team has long frowned upon sites that try to manipulate the search rankings by presenting a special site to Google’s crawler. Some sites, however, treated the mobile crawler differently in the past, as it only looked for feature-phone content. Now, Google is reminding these publishers that it’s time to start “serving the appropriate content based on the Googlebot-Mobile’s user-agent, so that both your feature phone and smartphone content will be indexed properly.”

Here are the user-agent strings that the updated Googlebot-Mobile uses to crawl smartphone sites:

Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU iPhone OS 4_1 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/532.9 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0.5 Mobile/8B117 Safari/6531.22.7 (compatible; Googlebot-Mobile/2.1; +

4:12 pm

The Usual Suspects Make Bing’s List of Top Searches this Year: Bieber, Kardashian & Sharapova


As the year slowly comes to an end, all the major (and minor) search engines are gearing up to release their annual top 10 lists. These tend to be highly sanitized lists packed to the brim with celebrities, news events and TV shows. The first major search engine to release its list this year is Bing. As is typical for these lists, there is little that’s surprising here. Still, this list makes for an interesting look at the zeitgeist of 2011 and the state of mainstream pop culture, even as this annual ritual will likely make you wonder about your contemporaries’ priorities.

It would be nice if the big search engines would just make their uncensored, raw lists of top searches (the ones that include all the misspellings and adult queries) available to researchers and developers. There must be some more interesting trends hiding in this data that goes beyond the basic lists of celebrities, major news events and TV shows that Google, Bing and others like to present at the end of every year.

Bing’s Top 10s

Here are the top three results for some of the categories Bing ranked. You can find all the full lists for 2011 and 2010 on Microsoft’s Bing Blog.

Most Searched Person of 2011:

5873 Justin Bieber 09EFB1D1

#1 Justin Bieber

#2 Kim Kardashian

#3 Jennifer Aniston

Most Searched News Stories of 2011:

#1 Casey Anthony Trial

#2 Osama Bin Laden Death

#3 Hurricane Irene

Most Searched Sports Stars of 2011:

#1 Maria Sharapova

#2 Tiger Woods

#3 Serena Williams

Most Searched Consumer Electronics of 2011:

#1 Xbox

#2 Kindle

#3 Playstation

7:39 pm

Don’t Want Google to “Correct” Your Searches? You Can Now Search Verbatim


Until earlier this year, you could do a Google search and use the ‘+’ operator in front of any word to make sure that Google would search for this specific term. Now that Google is moving towards using ‘+’ as a way to find Google+ profiles, though, this option is gone. Instead, Google asked users to use double quotes to ensure that none of Google’s usual corrections, personalizations or other changes are applied to this term. Now, however, after some vocal opposition against the disappearance of the ‘+’ search operator, Google is introducing a new tool that brings some of this functionality back: verbatim search.

verbatim_search_find_itThis new tool will be rolling out to all Google users over the next few days. Once it’s available for you, it will hide in the side bar, though, where you will have to click on “more search tools” and then look for it at the bottom of the list.

While few users are likely to really need this tool, it’s nice to have it as an option, though just adding quotation marks around a term seems to be a bit easier than clicking through to the “more search tools” option.

Algorithm Changes Coming, Too

Google also acknowledged that it plans to make some changes to when its “query broadening search improvements” triggers, which seems to be an admission that its current algorithms sometimes go overboard in trying to correct or broaden search queries.

6:46 pm

Google+ Finally Launches Brand Pages – Now Open For All (Updated)


Ever since the launch of Google+, businesses have been wondering when they could finally open up their own outposts on Google+. After a long delay, Google finally pulled back the curtains from its product for brands today. These new so-called Google+ Pages look pretty much exactly like regular Google+ profiles, but with a ‘page’ icon next to the page’s name, a +1 button and the ability to share a page with your friends. While Google isn’t ready to just let any brand onto the service yet, it is launching a number of pages with well-known brands like H&M, Toyota and Pepsi.

While you can’t create a brand page yourself yet, Google notes that it wants local businesses, brands, products, companies, arts and entertainment organizations and sports teams to set up their own pages on the service.

Update (1:15pm PT): Google just announced that the rollout is now complete and that anybody who wants to can now sign up for a Google+ Page. 

What Took Them So Long?

The Google+ Pages themselves aren’t really that exciting. Indeed, looking at them now really makes you wonder why it took Google so long to release this feature. The Google+ team regularly noted that it wanted to get this feature right and hence wasn’t ready to release it yet. I gather designing a ‘page’ icon and putting a +1 on a page doesn’t quite account for the long delay.

The only major difference between regular profile pages and Google+ pages is that they feature a cumulative +1 count that adds up all the +1s on a given site.

Direct Connect: More Interesting than the Pages it Powers

More interesting than the pages themselves, then, is the second new feature Google announced today: Direct Connect from Google search. The idea here is that you can now search for [+], followed by a page and Google will immediately take you to that brand’s page. This doesn’t work when searching for regular people, but it does work for Angry Birds.

According to Google, a page’s eligibility for being included in the Direct Connect program “is determined algorithmically, based on certain signals we use to help understand your page’s relevancy and popularity.” Publishers should also ensure that their content is linked to their Google+ pages.

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6:29 pm

10 Blue Links Weren’t Enough: Bing Gets Some Action on the Side


Bing today added a number of “action buttons” to its search results. With these, you can find links to the top actions most users take on sites from airlines, couriers, restaurants, banks, rental cars, software downloads and hotels. The buttons will appear right next to the relevant search results.

Internet search is a difficult problem for computer scientists, but for consumers, it feels like it’s been solved a long time ago. As Stefan Weitz, Microsoft’s director of Bing, told CNN earlier this week, “No one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I really wish there was a better search engine.” That’s a major challenge for Bing, which has slowly developed into a very capable search engine in its own right. To compete, Bing has to do more than Google, though. In the same interview, Weitz also says that for his team, “it’s always been about figuring out how to accomplish more than we thought was possible with a search engine.” Today, as a part of this mission, Bing is introducing its new “Action Buttons,” which will make it easier and faster for users to not just find things on a website but actually get to the point where they can take an action on that site.

Continental bing result

Better Than Sitelinks?

At first glance, these Action Buttons look like glorified sitelinks (the little blue links to popular pages on a site that both Google and Bing show underneath the main result). Indeed, for the most part, these Action Buttons replicate links that are already in the sitelinks – though they sometimes use different words (“Reservations” vs. “Book a flight”). According to Microsoft, these links are determined by algorithms that try to find the “top actions and corresponding links in the site for a given category with high precision.”

I’m all for getting people to the results they are looking for faster. I’m not 100% sure that this new feature adds a lot of value to the service at this point, though, as it mostly highlights a functionality that already exists in the sitelinks. Deepak Vijaywargi, a program manger on the Bing team, however, argues that, “with Action Buttons, it’s less about searching and more about getting things done” and that we should “stay tuned for more from [Bing] in this area.”

3:50 pm

Google + Now Open for Everyone – Gets Search and Better Hangouts, Too


Google just announced that it is taking its new social network Google+ out of its semi-private field trial today. Google+ is now in an open beta and anybody with a Google account can now sign up without the need for an invite (though Google Apps users still can’t get in). As part of this, Google is also making a plethora of new features available today. Among these are a number of new features for its Hangout video chat service and new tools for mobile users. Google is also finally making it possible to search through old Google+ posts.

New Features: Mobile Hangouts, Screensharing, Collaboration, API

The area that is getting the most attention today, however, is Google’s Hangout feature. Among other things, it is now possible to use hangouts on the go (Android-only for now, though support for iOS is coming soon). Users in a Hangout video chat can now also share their screens, draw an a shared sketchpad and write on shared Google Docs. Google also announced a new “Hangouts on Air” feature today, which will soon allow anybody to broadcast and record their hangouts and share them with an unlimited number of viewers.

Google is also launching a basic API for this tool.


As for the search feature, Google will now let you search through both public and private posts. It’s not quite clear how Google is ranking these search results, but Google is clearly trying to rank posts by relevance as they are not ordered chronologically. It’s good to see that the company is finally making this feature available. Given Google’s expertise in search, the omission of a search feature for Google+ was always a bit puzzling.

Search google plus

New on Mobile: Post by SMS; Goodbye Huddle, Welcome Messenger (With Photo Sharing)

Among the other interesting new features for mobile users is the ability to use text messaging to post to Google+. This feature is currently only available for users in the U.S. and India, but more countries should follow soon. To get started with this, just verify your phone number in your Google+ settings.

Huddle, the group messaging feature that was only available in the mobile Google+ clients for Android and iOS is now being renamed “Messenger.” Besides renaming the service, Google is also adding one cool new feature to it: photo sharing. When you are in a group chat, you can now upload photos from your phone directly into the chat.

hangouts on air

100 New Features Since Launch

With these additions, Google today announced, the company has now released 100 new features since the initial launch of Google+ earlier this year. All of these new features will roll out globally over the next few days.



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4:10 pm

Wajam Wants to Make Your Social Search More Social


Social search is, without doubt, one of the hottest topics in the search engine business today. Google and Microsoft have made it the central focus of their latest search engine features and numerous small players are also trying to get a foothold in this nascent business. Among these smaller players is Wajam, a Canadian startup that lets you easily add social search results to virtually all of the majorsearch engines and shopping sites you use today, including Google, Bing, Amazon, Tripadvisor, Wikipedia, and Yelp.

The idea behind social search has always been intriguing, as there is, after all, a good chance that the links your friends share online are more relevant to you than other links. To make this really work, though, a social search engine needs to be able to easily tap into all your social networks, not just either Twitter or Facebook. That’s where Wajam shines. It lets you connect to all your favorite social networks and then indexes all the links (and the content of the pages these links point to) that your friends have shared. Then, when you search, it transparently pins these results at the top of your regular search results on your favorite search engine.

Among the nifty features here are the ability to also add your Google+ account and search through it – something that Google still doesn’t let its users do. You can also filter results so you just see photos or just the links a specific person has shared. Earlier this month, Wajam also added a location feature, which lets you easily see who of your friends live in a given city and what places your friends have liked there.

Earlier this week, I talked to the company’s founder and CEO Martin-Luc Archambault. According to Archambault, his team mostly consists of engineers, as the company runs its own servers and has to not just pull in a very large amount of data (my friends, for example, have shared more than 3.5 million links) but also rank it. The ranking, indeed, could still use some tweaking, but in general, the search results are relevant, though the best ones are often under the fold (by default, Wajam only shows one result).

Overall, though, Wajam has turned out to be quite a useful addition to my search arsenal, especially because it pulls in data from such a wide variety of sources.


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4:12 pm

Better Search Results for All: Google’s Panda Update Goes Global


In its efforts to preserve the quality of its search results, Google rolled out the so-called Panda and Panda 2.0 update to its algorithm for searches in English earlier this year. Until now, however, these changes didn’t impact searchers outside of the English-speaking world. That’s changing today, however. Earlier this morning, Google announced that it has now brought its “algorithmic search improvements” to all other languages, with the exception of Chines, Japanese and Korean.

Impact: 6-9% of All Searches

According to Google, these changes will impact about 6-9% of all queries to the degree that users will notice the difference. The earlier Panda update for English queries was decidedly more aggressive, as it affected a good 12% of all searches.

While Google doesn’t explicitly say so, the originally Panda update was – for a large part – motivated by the proliferation of content farms that pollute search results with low-quality content written by badly paid freelancers. Indeed, companies like Demand Media were strongly affected by this change and lost a good amount of traffic because of it.

The content spam problem isn’t quite as bad in the rest of the world. It looks like Google clearly felt that the Panda update improved search algorithm worked well enough in other languages as well to roll it out globally.

Image credit: Flickr user Stéfan

4:07 pm

Google’s Search Results Now Highlight Content Creators


When it comes to figuring out which search result you want to click on, chances are, you gravitate toward the first three links. These days, however, Google and Microsoft are also adding more social signals to their search results pages to give their searchers a better idea of what their friends may have liked. Today, Google is adding yet another layer to its search results that should help users identify interesting content. Results that feature content from authors at a select number of news sources and blogs will now prominently feature the author’s name and Google Profile image next to the search results (including our own little blog here, which was part of the pilot). This is meant to help Google’s users identify interesting new content from people the company trusts.

How Google Identifies Authors

In order to get this to work, writers will have to ensure that they have a Google Profile that is linked to their sites and that they use Google’s new authorship markup (specifically, the rel=”author” tag) to ensure that Google knows who wrote any given story on your site. A number of large sites, including the New York Times, have already implemented the necessary tags to highlight their authors. Adding the necessary tags to most blogs should be relatively easy for most writers, too, but for the time being, this new feature is just available in a limited pilot, though Google expects to expand this program over time.

Google, of course, has been struggling to prevent the mediocre content that most of today’s content farms push out from polluting its search results. With the recent updates to its search algorithms, it has made some strides in this direction. While it’s not directly linked to weeding out content farms, this new feature is meant to highlight content from people Google trusts. Indeed, Google argues that its users will trust content more when they know the writer and – at the same time – writers will hopefully do a better job at writing when they know their name is prominently linked to their stories.

10:01 pm

Google Confirms FTC Antitrust Inquiry, But Says Reasons are “Unclear”


There were some rumors earlier this week that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was about to launch a formal antitrust investigation into Google’s “core search advertising business.” Today, Google confirmed that it has indeed received formal notification from the FTC that “it has begun a review of [its] business.” In its official statement, Google notes that it’s “unclear” what exactly the FTC’s concerns are, but if an earlier Wall Street Journal report is correct, the FTC is especially interested in investigating if Google has abused its dominant position in the search advertising space. (more…)

4:48 pm