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Are Google Results More Relevant?

TORONTO -- Apparently Google isn't just the most trafficked and utilized search engine; it may also well be the most relevant as well.

A panel at the Search Engine Strategies Toronto conference revealed that people perceive Google provides more relevant results than other search engines.

Gord Hotchkiss, president and CEO of search research firm Enquiro, kicked off the panel discussion by updating the results of his "Golden Triangle" eye-tracking study.

The Golden Triangle is triangle-shaped viewing pattern that reaches out from the top left of the search results page that "traps" the bulk user eyeballs.

According to the new data from Hotchkiss, the Golden Triangle isn't limited to just Google. It works on MSN and Yahoo as well.

However, the Golden Triangle on MSN and Yahoo is apparently larger than it is on Google, which may not be a good thing for perceived relevancy.

"At first glance one thing should stand out, which is the expansion of the scanning area on MSN and Yahoo!, " Hotchkiss told the standing room only crowd. "People had to go deeper on the page and look around more to find what they were looking for."

Search users don't want to have to look around more.

The ideal user experience, according to Hotchkiss, would be if users would always find what they're looking for in the most prominent place at the top of the results listing.

"We don't have to look, we don't have to think," Hotchkiss said. "Anytime I do a search, exactly what I'm looking for is at the top of the page."

Based on Hotchkiss' eye-tracking study, when Google seems to come closer to the ideal user experience than MSN and Yahoo!.

"It seems that the users were finding MSN and Yahoo less relevant than Google," Hotchkiss said.

That's not to say that Google results are necessarily more relevant from an actual search results point of view than either MSN or Yahoo. It's just that that Google results are "perceived" to be more relevant by users.

There are a number of reasons why Google results are perceived to be more relevant.

For one, Google makes it easier for searchers to identify relevance by bold-typing the query term in the search results.

Hotchkiss also noted that there is also a lot of contrast between the surrounding text and the query and more white space, making it easier to isolate the information set that users are looking for.

The single most important aspect of search relevancy, according to Hotchkiss, is the title contained in the search result.

He said the average participant took only 6.5 seconds to click their first link when scanning search results. In that time, they would read anywhere from 4 to 5 listings.

"If you were to do a query right now and read one listing on a search engine it would take you between 6 and 7 seconds to read it in a normal manner," Hotchkiss said.

"That means we don't read search listings, we scan search listings and we make very quick decisions about what is relevant and what is not."

In Google's case, it's not just the search results that helps its relevance to users.

According to a new study from Keynote Systems, a big part of Google's relevancy isn't actually directly related to what searchers see in the search results but rather to the Google brand itself.

Lance Jones, director of competitive intelligence at Keynote Systems, discussed a study he did where users were asked to rate satisfaction of their search experience using the normal Google site and using Google without the Google brand identifiers (logo, etc.).

According to the survey results, satisfaction was higher with the branded version even through there was no difference between the results.

"There is something about the Google brand that is giving users the perception that Google results are better," Jones said.

Jones explained it as being part of the "brand effect" that is associated with Google.

"The Google name itself is changing how people perceive what they are actually seeing, " Jones said.

"Google's brand acts like a magnifying glass. What our results bear out is that something good on Google looks great to users."