Recap of Marissa Mayer Interview from SES San Jose 2007

MIHMORANDUM NO. 33 | August 27th, 2007Reader Comments (0)

Search Engine Guru Danny Sullivan sat down with Google’s Marissa Mayer for a relatively informal interview in front of several thousand folks at Wednesday’s keynote address.

Ms. Mayer seemed quite pleased with how Universal has turned out. In her words, Google’s idea is to move away from a “10 links” mentality and get the search page feeling more like an encyclopedia. Future SERPs will strive to illustrate the answer to a particular question in a variety of ways.

Don’t expect Google to ruin the clean interface that’s helped lead to its current dominance, though. Overloading searchers with information is an explicit concern of Mayer’s, and ‘blended’ search performed better in their user studies than search with various separated verticals.  In response to the concern that images in Universal are drawing the eye away from advertising, Mayer hinted that over time, Google may introduce more rich advertising platforms to counteract this phenomenon.  Advertising will probably not be integrated into the main search results, however, as this would be antithetical to Google’s credibility as a search engine.  (Also on the advertising front, Mayer mentioned that Google sees Pay-Per-Action as the “Holy Grail” of search marketing, but that a pure PPA model was probably a “long way off.”)

Ms. Mayer also thinks that personalized search is one of the biggest advances in search quality. Google now has tens of millions of personalized search users, and iGoogle Homepages, G Bookmarks, Web History, and Search History are the four factors currently in use in personalized search. She hinted that query recency, in other words, looking at immediate past search strings, is one of the most important signals to increasing relevance.

One of the innovations to Google’s form of personalized search is to give users full control over their web and search histories. If they feel a particular result wasn’t relevant to their search, they can simply delete it to reverse the effect of that particular clickthrough.

Only some results will be marked as personalized by Google in the future. They’ll become the default listings, and Mayer seemed hesitant to implement a toggle for turning these results off.

The discussion then turned to some of Google’s competitors, notably Facebook and human-powered search engines like Mahalo.  Mayer called Facebook her ‘favorite’ non-Google product, citing its open platform and fully-functional applications.  She remarked that Facebook’s ability to collect information about users and their connections represents a powerful advance in personalization, if Facebook ever decides to dive into search.  As for human-powered search, Google’s been pushing back recently, saying “we’ve got humans, too.” Google has been painted as the algorithmic purist, but in reality they simply use an algorithm as a base for indexing tens of billions of pages…Google Coop, Google Notebook, and other sources help feed human input back into the results themselves.

With respect to Local search, Ms. Mayer seemed certain that Google’s algorithm will eventually become so good at determining user intent that we’ll get to a place where every result is a local result. The same holds true for Google’s news offering with hot media topics. Google is looking at things that are far more radical than the current implementation of Universal.

Ms. Mayer implored that Google StreetView is inherently about finding things faster–the idea that you can know what a meeting place looks like from the street.  It’s not about seeing individual cars or faces…if Google is alerted to these kinds of privacy violations, they manually blur these images.

On the mobile front, mobile search has actually increased in the last couple of months despite the traditional “summer slump” as people move away from their computers and onto vacations and other outdoor activities.   She highlighted Google Maps’ tremendous integration with the iPhone touch interface as one of the main reasons.  One of the more recent advances is that traffic information is now shown right on top of highways.  Google plans to work with phone manufacturers to preload future applications, but currently, user-initiated downloads are already very popular for Maps & Gmail.

As part of her closing comments, Ms. Mayer mentioned that she sees Google Desktop as a fundamental shift in the way people will use computers in the future. Activities you do on your own machine can be used to help you find relevant information in your sidebar – RSS feeds or Calendar information you might find interesting, for example.  It enables users to collaborate with other people from all around the web, and reduces the mandatory tie to one’s own personal machine.

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