Digital/Online Marketing Communications Strategy

Real-Time And The Search For Relevance

By on December 10, 2009 in commentary, search engine optimization with 0 Comments

If you’ve used Google this week, you may have noticed a “Latest results” section where content is delivered in a dynamic stream. These are real-time updates pulled from various sources, including social media and news sites.

There’s a scroll bar — you can move it up or down to see more items, and if you click the “Latest results” header link, or click “Latest” in the left-hand search options menu, you’ll get a full page of up-to-the-minute results.

The new real-time feature is in response to growing public desire for instant up-to-the minute information; and by the popularity of Twitter, in particular. There’s even a joke going around that if you haven’t heard about something on Twitter, then it hasn’t happened yet.

Google is following the trend.

Millions of changes a day

Earlier this week Google’s blog featured a post titled Relevance meets the real-time web, which explains the how and why of its entry into real-time search.

The company touts its accomplishment, which we are told, is:

“based on more than a dozen new search technologies that enable us to monitor more than a billion documents and process hundreds of millions of real-time changes each day.”

Sounds like a heck of a lot processing, but then, Google’s business is based on crunching billions of bits of information on a regular basis — as of June of this year its engine was estimated to receive 304 million searches per day.

Of course, the results returned for those searches were based on a lag-time between when a piece of information first hits the web and when it gets indexed.  If you searched for a specific term on one day, and then a week later, the results were often similar.

As of December 7, with real-time search, Google tells us:

“Now, immediately after conducting a search, you can see live updates from people on popular sites like Twitter and FriendFeed, as well as headlines from news and blog posts published just seconds before. When they are relevant, we’ll rank these latest results to show the freshest information right on the search results page.”

What defines relevancy?

The algorithm for Google’s search engine is tip-top secret (sort of), not to mention constantly changing. However, it is commonly understood that if others think you are worthy — say by linking to your website, or your link in search results gets lots of clicks/traffic — this can help raise your rank in the search engine results page. And yes, there’s more to it and that I am way over-simplifying, still, the gist is that indicators of quality and/or popularity matter.

With real-time flow of information it’s challenging to ascertain what’s deemed good quality. Sure you’ve got retweets, tags, bookmarks and social news sites that can infer a degree of popularity (which is not the same as quality, to be sure). There’s also authority of domain to go by. Regardless, the concept of relevance is harder to pin down when messages are pumping out at a furious pace.

For  instance,  a search for “obama” on the day President Barack Obama personally received the Nobel Peace Prize, you get real-time results like this:

Whatever the result, it moves by fast. If one item offends, or is of little interest, count to three and something new comes into view.

It’s an intriguing way to measure the popular zeitgeist.

And if nothing else, Google’s real-time search results prove that what’s news can merely mean what’s new, and what’s relevant is all relative.

– Deni Kasrel

What are your thoughts on real-time search? Does it really improve the search experience? Comments welcome.

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About the Author

About the Author: Deni Kasrel is seasoned (slightly spicy) specialist in digital/online communications. .

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