Google updates search algorithm, ups ante vs. Bing

Change designed to provide Google search users with more timely, 'fresher' search results

Google is looking to freshen up its search results with updated algorithms.

The updates could be an important part of Google's strategy to keep ahead of search rivals like Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing engine, analysts said.

The tweak in the basic Google algorithm should make search results much more timely for users, Google said, adding that about 35% of all searches should be affected.

"If I search for 'Olympics,' I probably want information about next summer's upcoming Olympics, not the 1900 Summer Olympics (the only time my favorite sport, cricket, was played)," wrote Google Fellow Amit Singhal in a blog post this afternoon.

"Google Search uses a freshness algorithm, designed to give you the most up-to-date results, so even when I just type 'Olympics' without specifying 2012, I still find what I'm looking for," he added.

Singhal, though, noted that not all searches are based on finding the most recent results.

For instance, someone trying to look up their favorite marinara recipe has different needs than someone trying to find information on the latest happenings with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Therefore, the "significant" improvement to Google's search algorithm can determine when to give users the more timely results, Singhal said.

"Different searches have different freshness needs," wrote Singhal. "This algorithmic improvement is designed to better understand how to differentiate between these kinds of searches and the level of freshness you need, and make sure you get the most up-to-the minute answers."

Such updates are necessary if Google expects to maintain its dramatic lead in the search market, according to Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group.

"Google needs to continue to refine search in order to maintain its top-dog status," Olds said. "Bing isn't a huge threat at this point, but the Bingers are hungry and aren't going to go away. They're busy working on their own enhancements. It's trench warfare and Google has to keep pushing ahead. Search is Google's bread and butter, the foundation of its entire empire."

The timing of the update could prove beneficial to Google, whose market share numbers are starting to show intermittant signs of slippage.

In August, the search giant's U.S. market share slipped below 65% for the first time in two months. It was a quick dip, though. According to comScore, an Internet tracker, Google inched back from 64.8% in August to 65.3% in September.

Nonetheless, the dip below 65% should be a reminder to Google that it needs to make sure its technology stays ahead of the competition. While analysts have long said that users are mostly comfortable with Google today, an updated Bing could start to look "cooler" and some users might start to stray.

"Google's new search algorithm is a nice, albeit modest, advance," said Olds.

"They've obviously analyzed how users are interacting with links after their initial search - which links people select, which links they don't, and their follow-up searches. Google has used these results to enhance what they're serving up. It's not a huge blow to Bing, but it shows that Google is continuing to hone its flagship product," Olds added.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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