Relevance…Is it Relevant?

    November 19, 2007

As we mentioned Friday, Live Search is very proud of itself for finally making its results relevant. Unfortunately, I think their relevance push was obviously too little, too late.

Are users actually concerned with relevance anymore? I’m going to argue that we’re not. We take it for granted. And really, we already know that people don’t judge search engine results on the fifty words below the results—they judge them on the brand. Whatever brand we happen to prefer, I think our default search engine is what we consider the most relevant. And yes, for many people, that is Google. But not everyone.

Google has made relevance so fundamental to search that it’s now a non-issue. There is so little difference among the relevance of search engines that being relevant isn’t a unique selling proposition or the distinguishing factor. Right now, it’s the brand. Google has associated its brand with relevance—and it’s a given that all other search engines will have to be relevant to compete. But MSN’s new relevance (and lack of branding) is not about to set it apart.

I don’t think that even a more relevant MSN—i.e., an MSN that is more relevant than Google—will ultimately be able to win the day. Users take it for granted that search engines return at least somewhat relevant results. Frankly, I think that the vast majority of users (including the millions looking for [], [] and []) are simply not sophisticated enough to discern which search engine is presents the results that best address the query as they’ve typed it.

I’m not arguing that search engines should ignore relevance altogether. Of course they need to make an effort to understand the web pages they index. Even the most ardent acolyte of Googlism would one day have to turn away if Google began returning aphasic results (you type in [puppies] and get information on chrysanthemums). Search engines should constantly work to improve the relevance of their results—behind the scenes.

While touting the relevance of their results may sound impressive to search marketers (and really, I’m sure that that is a large part of the Live Search blog’s audience), it’s a far less convincing argument to the people you really need to convince—users. And so far, it’s not working.