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Google adds new depth to complicated searches

By checking other Web pages for related content as a search is performed, Google said it can handle complicated queries better. Also: longer text snippets in results.

Google on Tuesday announced it has broadly released changes that it expects will produce better results for complicated searches.

The technology works by analyzing the content of Web pages that appear related to the query and determining from those pages the "entities" such as people, places, or concepts that are related to the query. Sometimes it would then offer suggested new searches in a "search refinements" section that appears at the bottom or top of the list of results, said Ori Allon, technical lead for the company's search quality team, in an interview. The processing occurs during the fraction of a second Google takes to return search results.

"We try to understand what's the meaning of the query, the context of the query," Allon said. "We can do a better job of generating refinements that let users hopefully get to results they want."

Google offered search refinements in the past, but mostly only in English. Now they'll show with "most searches," and in all 37 languages Google supports, Allon said. The technology helps more with long, complicated queries, but it works on simple ones, too, he added.

One example: a search for "revolutionary technological developments in history" shows a variety of other searches at the bottom of the page. Among them are searches relating to the American Revolution and the agricultural revolution, neither of which appear in the top 10 results.

A search for 'revolutionary technological developments in history' shows these other searches at the bottom of the search results.
A search for 'revolutionary technological developments in history' shows these other searches at the bottom of the search results. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

In addition, for longer queries, Google is showing more information in the "snippets" of text included with each search result so people can better judge each site.

"We feel that with longer snippets, you get a better understanding of what the site is about and whether you should click through," Allon said. "We noticed with longer snippets, people (less often) click and come back because they didn't find what they want."

Allon and Ken Wilder, an engineer with Google's snippets team, described the changes in a blog post Tuesday.

The changes show the difficulties that contenders in the search arena face in trying to get an edge over Google. Wolfram Research, for example, plans to reveal a search technology called Wolfram Alpha in May that's specifically designed to handle longer questions people might ask a search engine, and some of Google's new changes appear to help the company with that sort of query.

Google has found in its testing that the search refinements help in the real world.

"We noticed that people who don't find what they want in top 10 results tend to use refinements," Allon said, scrolling up and down and looking beyond the first page of results. With the better search refinements, "We witnessed a significant increase of people who find what they want."

Though Google's search refinements appear in a separate section today, Allon didn't rule out blending the information directly into the search results themselves. "We are working on future development of this, but there's nothing we can announce today," he said. "This is not the only improvement we have."