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A Look Under Google’s Hood

Read between the Google lines in this NYTimes piece. I mean, really read between what the lines of what they are saying. Here are some quotes that you should pay attention to from the piece.

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That’s why Amit Singhal and hundreds of other Google engineers are constantly tweaking the company’s search engine in an elusive quest to close the gap between often and always. Mr. Singhal is the master of what Google calls its “ranking algorithm” — the formulas that decide which Web pages best answer each user’s question.

Why do people come to Google? To answer questions. Are you writing content that answers questions?

Some complaints involve simple flaws that need to be fixed right away. Recently, a search for “French Revolution” returned too many sites about the recent French presidential election campaign — in which candidates opined on various policy revolutions — rather than the ouster of King Louis XVI. A search-engine tweak gave more weight to pages with phrases like “French Revolution” rather than pages that simply had both words.

At other times, complaints highlight more complex problems. In 2005, Bill Brougher, a Google product manager, complained that typing the phrase “teak patio Palo Alto” didn’t return a local store called the Teak Patio.

So Mr. Singhal fired up one of Google’s prized and closely guarded internal programs, called Debug, which shows how its computers evaluate each query and each Web page. He discovered that Theteakpatio.com did not show up because Google’s formulas were not giving enough importance to links from other sites about Palo Alto.

Believe it. Real people do in fact look at search results and Google does tweak it by hand. It’s not all robots.

Mr. Singhal introduced the freshness problem, explaining that simply changing formulas to display more new pages results in lower-quality searches much of the time. He then unveiled his team’s solution: a mathematical model that tries to determine when users want new information and when they don’t. (And yes, like all Google initiatives, it had a name: QDF, for “query deserves freshness.”)

Mr. Manber’s group questioned QDF’s formula and how it could be deployed. At the end of the meeting, Mr. Singhal said he expected to begin testing it on Google users in one of the company’s data centers within two weeks. An engineer wondered whether that was too ambitious.

THE QDF solution revolves around determining whether a topic is “hot.” If news sites or blog posts are actively writing about a topic, the model figures that it is one for which users are more likely to want current information. The model also examines Google’s own stream of billions of search queries, which Mr. Singhal believes is an even better monitor of global enthusiasm about a particular subject.

Updated your content lately? Can someone say “blogs”?

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