Search Engines Eye Personalized Results

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NEW YORK -- Search engines will add results tailored more to individual tastes, executives from major search companies predicted at the Search Engine Strategies conference here yesterday.


The battle for Internet users has made search engines move more to differentiate themselves by offering users a more intuitive search experience that closely matches their needs, search executives said.


"We have a deep relationship with our users," said Tim Cadogan, vice president of search at Yahoo, "and we want to create a more personalized search experience."


He said Yahoo would use its close relationship with its users, 130 million of whom register with the site. Its revamped search site rolled out last April with a variety of options for personalizing search, such as choosing the language for returns and the number of listings on the results page.


Search engines see personalized results as a way to increase user loyalty, as industry data show most consumers use more than one search engine. The stakes are high: Yahoo executives estimate that each percentage point of search market share is worth $200 million in marketing fees from the paid listings clicks it generates.


Cadogan said building loyalty requires giving users a differentiated search experience, citing steps like Yahoo letting users search together over Instant Messenger.


"Expect to see a lot more evolution in bringing community to the search experience," he said.


One search startup, Eurekster, is trying to capitalize on this. In January, it launched a search engine that uses social networking to provide search results influenced by what others in a searcher's social circle have found more relevant.


Cadogan stressed that search engines need to be mindful of privacy concerns.


"The critical thing in any talk of personalization is to make sure the user has control," he said.


Like Yahoo, AOL has deep information given by its 23 million members. Gerry Campbell, general manager of search for AOL, said the Internet service would focus on integrating its media content and providing local services. For example, a rabid sports fan from Philadelphia searching on the term "Eagles" should be offered football-related results over aviary or Don Henley sites.


"These are very tangible [advances], and they're on the near horizon," he said.


Google, a search engine with a hugely loyal following, does not collect information from users. Craig Silverstein, director of technology at Google, said personalization would advance slowly and, at Google, with the idea of maintaining user trust foremost.


Paul Gardi, senior vice president of search at Ask Jeeves, said the search engine would look to evolve how it provides information to users, preferably in the form of answers to problems instead of lists of Web pages that might contain those answers. Ask Jeeves has moved toward this by developing Smart Answers, which directly return information like state capitals, the weather conditions and driving directions.


Gardi said Ask Jeeves would move beyond this by combining Web search results with database information to provide better relevancy and a more intuitive search experience.


"We're only scratching the surface of the information out there," he said.


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