I’m a little confused here.
Late Sunday night, as Search Engine Watch noted, Yahoo’s corporate search blog tooted its own horn about the seeming success of the Yahoo Answers service. In the course of the post, it was noted that some of the user-submitted answers are so good and so popular that they’re making their way toward the top of Yahoo’s regular “organic” search results. The example provided was the search term “best dog for apartment.” I just performed that search at Yahoo and, sure enough, Yahoo Answers pages came up as the #1 and the #3 results. Not bad.
Now, it’s not particularly surprising that this should be the case. If you have a highly trafficked site providing answers to precise questions, it seems reasonable that the site’s pages would rank fairly highly on searches keyed to words related to those questions. At the same time, it’s very nice for Yahoo, since search results end up directing people to other Yahoo pages with Yahoo ads.
But then I went over to Google and did the same search there. Yahoo Answers made no appearance on the first page of the Google results. But there was a Google Answers page there – it ranked #7. I went deeper into the Google results, and found that Yahoo Answers finally appeared on the third page. It was #21. Then I went back to the Yahoo search results to look for a mention of Google Answers. Nothing. Not a mention in the first ten pages of results. Then I went over to Microsoft’s MSN search and did the same search. No mentions of either Yahoo Answers or Google Answers in the first ten pages of results.
Now, Google and Yahoo and Microsoft all use different algorithms that all produce different results. Fine. But they’re all seeking the same thing: relevance. And they’re all promising to be unbiased in delivering their “organic” search results. Indeed, the promise of unbiased results lies at the very heart of the search industry. So, please, someone convince me that in searching for the best dog for my apartment I didn’t just experience some form of bias.
UPDATE: Rich Ziade says this raises some larger questions.