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Google makes changes to search results

The search engine giant launches a technology to better understand what people are looking for. It also will give longer snippets after the search title, with relevant words in bold.

March 25, 2009|Alana Semuels

Google Inc. made two changes to its search results pages Tuesday that it said would help more effectively direct users to the information they were seeking.

The search engine giant said it was launching a technology to better understand what people were looking for online. It also will give longer lines of text, or snippets, after the search title, with relevant words in bold.

"We're constantly looking for ways to get you to the Web page you want as quickly as possible," company executives said in a post on the corporate blog.

The technology, from Google's acquisition of search company Orion in 2006, essentially tries to recognize the broader idea of what someone is searching for, rather than the specific words. Someone who types "principles of physics," for instance, will see a related search bar listing topics such as "special relativity," "big bang" and "quantum mechanics."

"It's based on the better understanding of pages in real time, and the ability to relate those pages to the query," said Greg Sterling, an editor at the industry website Search Engine Land.

The addition of snippets pertains only to queries longer than three words. The words of a search typed into Google will be listed in boldface in the snippets.

The point is to help searchers know whether the results are relevant so they can decide whether to click over to the pages. It's a goal many search engines have been trying to perfect: For example, on its results pages, RedZee Search shows images of websites that users can scroll through, rather than a list of websites.

It remains to be seen whether these improvements will alter user behavior, Sterling said. The changes could keep people on Google longer because they won't click on pages that aren't relevant. Sterling also said users might begin to enter more specific search terms, knowing that the words they're looking for will show up in the results and potentially save them time.

"This sounds like a significant development to me," Sterling said.

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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