Sunday, November 09, 2008

Keywords from Questions

In a recent article Google Search Quality Tech Lead Daniel Russell talks about an example of a user using keywords to find ferry timetable. What struck me as interesting was how the user didn’t hit upon using the keyword “ferry” until further in through their search task.

I suspect this was caused by the user starting with a question with words to the effect of “When does the ferry leave San Francisco to Larkspur?” and then attempting to turn this into a series of keywords by knocking out works such as does, when etc. The word “ferry” got knocked out of the user’s first run of keywords as it was a generic reference to ferry. In this case ferry was thought of as a common noun rather a proper noun.

If my hypothesis is reasonable then quality of keywords is going to depend on how the user first structures the question in their mind. For example if the user had used the following structure for the question “When does the San Francisco to Larkspur Ferry leave?” the word “ferry” would have been used as a keyword.

The potential importance to the way a user structures their initial question mentally points to a severe limitation to keyword and ranking search paradigm. The speed and quality of the search experience is heavily dependent on the user structuring the initial question so as to readily identify effective keywords, something that the search engines can do little to effect.

On the other hand question and fact paradigm based search engines, such as True Knowledge, will not suffer this problem.

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