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1/22/2010
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Google Search Gets Answers, Events

Two search relevancy improvements make it easier than ever to get answers using Google.

Google on Friday introduced two improvements in its search technology that further the company's conversion of its search results page from point of departure to a destination.

Various Google competitors over the years have suggested that search results lists don't go far enough to present users with the answers they're seeking and have offered a variety of ostensible improvements.

Microsoft's Bing, for example, answers the query "london flights" with specific travel deals and prices from Bing Travel at the top of its search results list. A Google search returns links to Web sites related to travel, requiring at least an extra click, if not more, to see ticket prices.

It's an issue Google is aware of and has been working to address by providing more structured information for certain types of queries. A search for "shriekback," for example, returns links to the band's songs rather than links to Web pages that may host song links.

Google's latest search improvements build upon Google Squared and Rich Snippets, search technologies introduced last May.

Google Squared takes a search query like "jazz trumpet players" and formats the results in a table of rows and columns. The result is a better search experience through better presentation.

Rich Snippets provide an expanded set of information for certain types of searches having to do with reviews or people. For a restaurant, a snippet might include the rating information, the number of reviews, and a phone number.

Google has used this technology to implement "answer highlighting" in its general search results and to expand Rich Snippets to include events.

Thanks to technology borrowed from Google Squared, a query like "empire state height" now includes highlighted information that more directly answers the query in the search result. In this specific query, the search result now incorporates the landmark's height, 1250 ft.

Or so Google claims: At the time this article was filed, a Google search for those keywords returned the old format rather than the new, more informative one shown in Google's blog post on the changes. This may be because Google service alterations can take a few hours to become widely available across all Google servers.

The expansion of Rich Snippets to include event information isn't a first for the search market -- Bing already surfaces event information -- but it should be welcomed by users nonetheless.

Whether these changes are welcomed by Web site owners is another matter. By making its search results more informative, Google may reduce the incentive to click through to the Web sites it indexes.

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