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What Constitutes Search Engine Relevancy?

Relevancy. It’s something that drives the search engine industry in almost every aspect. From providing quality search results to contextual advertising, relevancy is crucial to any search engine’s success. The question is how do you define relevancy? More importantly, how do search engines define relevancy?

These questions continue to give the debate life because what may be relevant to one person may not be relevant to another user and/or a search engine.
So what determines relevancy? Because this subject has such a gray area, there are no clear-cut answers. Search engines have their own methods for determining relevancy and it’s usually based on their respective algorithms. However, we’ve all dealt with queries containing results that leave you scratching your head in confusion. Of course, there are other searches that can yield exactly what you are looking for. But why the disparity?

Obviously, all search results are predicated on the keyword(s) used in the query. If you are using general terms (movie, car, business), you can expect convoluted or less targeted search results. By the same token, if you are searching a more specific query (Nike shoes, Volvo , House of Flying Daggers DVD), odds are the results will be more relevant.

When dealing with search engines and relevancy, I’m reminded of a quote featured in a SearchEngineWatch blog entry by Greg Price. While discussing relevancy and search engines, Greg offered this: “Perhaps Udi Manber said it best at PC Forum a few weeks ago when he told the audience that search engines are not mind readers.” Due to the lack of clairvoyance on the part of the search engine industry, Greg suggests learning how to properly refine search queries.

In light of the relevancy debate, Barry Schwartz of had an idea concerning a test to determine what engine is the most relevant. In order to conduct this test, Barry developed, a “white labeled” search engine “that randomly select(s) results from one of the top four engines and ask(s) you to rate the search engine results, individually, from one to five.” is not only going to help measure the relevancy of the big four (Google, Yahoo, MSN Search, and, Barry is going to factor these rankings and announce which search engine is the most relevant (does the winner receive a prize ;)?). In order to cut down on external biases, Barry also made sure to hide which search engine supplied the results that are being ranked.

Currently, Barry has not revealed when the relevancy competition will be complete, so please stay tuned.

However, until the relevancy test is decided, other avenues to consider when it comes to search engine relevancy are the vertical search engines. Vertical search engines are considered niche because they normally subject specific. For instance, the Thomas Global Register is designed to search industrial-based products, while concentrates on the B2B (business-to-business) world. If you were searching for something within these areas of interest, you would be better served using an engine that concentrates on that subject.

However, just like Greg points out, very few of the average Joe Internet users are aware of such tools. That’s why he stresses refining your search keywords. Hopefully, this practice will return results that are more relevant to your area of interest.

Another factor that can impact the relevancy of results has to do with the multiple meanings of individual words. This is pointed out quite well by Black_Knight on the SEW forums, who posts: “When someone searches for ‘thunderbird’ there are so many possible options. Do they mean the car, the TV puppet show, the drink, the email client, the mythical beast, or something else entirely? There isn’t enough contextual info in the word alone.”

In order to counter this, Knight suggests the engines should keep a record of search history conducted by specific users and supply results based on previous searches. Meaning, if the person querying the “thunderbird” keyword was looking for Ford’s model and his search history reflected that, the results could be supplied based on previous contexts.

Of course, relevant results can also be delivered by refining your query as well. In other words, try and be specific when conducting searches and leave the general keywords alone.

Keep watching SERoundtable and for results concerning the RustySearch relevancy test.

About the Author:
Chris Richardson is a search engine writer for WebProNews. Visit WebProNews for the latest search news.

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Camilla Todd
Camilla Todd is Head of Digital Marketing at WNW Digital and manages Search Engine Optimisation, PPC, Social Media campaigns and Brand Awareness for WNW Digital SEO clients. You can follow her on Twitter @camilla_wnw, email her at or phone on 01392 349580

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