Google Tests Personalized Search, Debuts New Look

Search giant Google unveiled a search engine Monday that tailors search results to match users’ stated preferences. It also re-vamped the appearance of its sites worldwide.

The company also introduced Google Web Alerts, a beta service that alerts people via email when search results change.

The personalized service, which currently resides in Google’s experimental “Labs” division, is the most revolutionary of the changes. It allows users to enter their interests, then customizes search results based on those stated interests. Users can also use a slider to make the results more or less customized. “Personalized” results are highlighted with a brightly colored icon.

“Google has developed new algorithms that dynamically reorder results by weighting the interests you enter in your profile. When you move the slider, it recalculates and rearranges the results to add more or less emphasis on your profile information,” reads an FAQ on the Google site.

So far, no AdWords ads appear on personalized results pages, and Google is keeping mum on when they might be added.

“We don’t currently have a specifically personalized version of AdWords but…improving the overall relevance of advertising to our users is something that we’re always interested in,” said Jen Fitzpatrick, engineering director at Google.

Personalized search has been the topic of much discussion among thought leaders in the search engine arena, but how it should be implemented hasn’t been obvious. Start-up Eurekster uses people’s past search behavior and their friends’ searches to tailor how results appear. Now, Google is testing its own approach.

“All of the major search engines have been saying personalization is going to be the next step forward, but no one has shown us anything,” said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch. “At least Google is putting some cards on the table.”

Google also debuted a new look for its Web sites. Eschewing the tabbed navigation scheme, the new look puts hyperlinks above the search window. These links, like the tabs before them, take people to the company’s image search, groups search, news search, and Froogle product search. A “more” hyperlink links to a page displaying the different types of searches and services Google offers.

“The updated look of our site is really just a result of our desire to give Google a facelift and really just make sure that we continue to keep it clean and polished,” said Fitzpatrick.

The search window now appears a bit higher on the page, which allows for more search results, and more AdWords listings “above the fold.” AdWords are no longer in colored boxes, but appear on the right-hand side of the page, separated from main results by a light blue line.

The revamp also includes images on News search results pages along the left side of the page. Competitor Yahoo includes images in its news search, but on the right-hand side.

Product search site Froogle, while still in beta, gets more exposure through a link on the home page and on every search results page. The company also tweaked the site itself, adding links to popular searches and a new number range advanced search command that lets people search by price.

Another new service is Web Alerts, which allows users to get updates via email when search results change. It’s similar to what Google has long offered through its News Alerts service, but it draws on all Web results, not just news sources.

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