Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Sites for Sore Eyes? More About Google Search

Last week I explored blog readability - thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments :)

This week I'm looking at another change to Google's search capabilities I found out about at BlogCamp which you might not be aware of. Did you know the search result you see might be different to mine even if we enter the same search term at exactly the same time? This is because Google takes your previous searches and what you clicked on, plus the websites you visit through other means (e.g. via your bookmarks) into account when producing the list of sites it presents for you.

Most of the time this has little effect as it's very likely the site you want to look at is in the list. However, there are a couple of situations where it might not give you what you want to know:
  1. You may want to assess how your blog performs in a particular search e.g. on your blog's name , or whether e.g. a garden visit you wrote about features highly when that garden is searched for on the web
  2. The article you're writing is a knotty subject needing lots of research
By updating or looking at your blog on a regular basis, there's a chance any search you do where anything on your blog has those search terms will be returned higher up in the list you see than it would for someone else who's never or rarely reads your blog. Similarly when researching a topic, if the sites you regularly use for information match your search terms, they may be placed higher on your returned list. This means there's a risk you might miss something useful, particularly if you find your regular sources haven't quite returned what you wanted this time.

So if you want to see an unbiased view of your blog, or a good chance of finding some fresh research material, clear out your browser's cache*. Google is using the items stored there to determine what it 'thinks' you'd like to see.

What does all this have to do with the screen grab I'm featuring at the top of this post? It's illustrating how quickly search results may change depending on your browsing activities. I recently googled singing holiday Orkney to find out more about a holiday I'd heard about at choir.

You'll see the first search result after the adverts is called Candy Verney's Orkney Singing Holiday. However when I originally googled my search, it was the fifth one returned on the list. It was the only site I clicked on to look at. By using my computer's cache, the Google search engine has promoted its 'value' to me this time around and that little boost was enough to put it at the top of the list. Where it actually ends up each time also depends on the relative value placed by Google on the other sites matching my search terms.

This time I actually wanted to look at Orkney Island Holidays which appears at the bottom of the list today. It had caught my eye the first time when it appeared about half way down the page. I couldn't remember its exact name, but I could remember what I'd used in my search. As you can see, the site only just made it onto the first page of my results this time round.

I've also found out whilst researching this article it can be useful to use other search engines from time to time, particularly if you're looking for new material. I googled Veg Plotting on Bing and found Plant Mad Nige mentioned it in The Daily Mail in February. That's very nice to know. I've yet to find the same reference via Google, despite looking at 20 pages of returned results.

Whether or not you use this information depends on how happy you are with your search results or whether it's important to know how your blog performs in them. I thought you'd like to read about it because it might be useful sometime. Personally I'm not that comfortable with a computer deciding what I'd like to see. How about you?

* Update: Diana at Elephant's Eye has kindly left the following information in the Comments:

BTW if you Google Orkney Singing, as I just did - at the bottom it says View Customisations. There you can indeed toggle off the customisations, as G kindly asks - would you like to see the results ('without these improvements') before we sorted out what we think you want?! Much quicker and simpler than going to the cache.

5 comments:

  1. I had noticed it was doing this, but had no idea how - so thanks for saving me the research! I suspect that it's useful for most people, but as you say if you want to see whether anybody can find your blog, it's rather inconvenient. Pity they don't add an option for it in the search interface so you can toggle it on or off! I might even write to them and suggest it...

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  2. I found this out a few months ago and was quite disappointed to realise that google was returning 'biased' results for my searches. Thanks for your tip on clearing my browser cache.

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  3. TCG - that's a very good idea :)

    Damo - you're welcome. I learnt lots at Blogcamp so it's great to pass on some of the snippets - it also means I have someweher to look them up later!

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  4. BTW if you Google Orkney Singing, as I just did - at the bottom it says View Customisations. There you can indeed toggle off the customisations, as G kindly asks - would you like to see the results ('without these improvements') before we sorted out what we think you want?! Much quicker and simpler than going to the cache.

    This customisation is a warning flag, when you are innocently thinking My Blog comes First in a G Search for ... I came across this in June on a TED talk by Eli Pariser on filter bubbles. http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

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  5. EE - thanks for finding this out - I'll amend the blog immediately :)

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