Does Google Need to Evangelize Search?

SAN FRANCISCO — For many, “Google it” has become the popular and commonly understood equivalent of telling someone to do an Internet search. With that kind of consumer awareness and a dominant market share, you’d think the search giant has no worries.

Not quite true.

“‘I can’t find my friend’s band’s Web page. You guys suck.’ We get comments like that all the time,” said Google search evangelist Adam Lasnik.

Lasnik and other Googlers spoke at a Media Meetup event last week at its San Francisco offices. It was the second of a nine-city tour the company is doing to help clear up what it says are some popular misconceptions and provide a bit of education of how Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) search works.

One is that you can buy a top result on Google. “There’s a long time misconception that if you buy an ad it will have an impact on ranking search results,” Google spokesman Nate Tyler said. “The search results are organic and handled separately from our ad system. It’s a total church-and-state system; they’re even in separate buildings.”

In fact, Google’s results are based on a number of algorithmic factors including, but not limited to, its famous PageRank system. “Relevancy is what matters, it’s not pay-for-play,” said Chris O’Neil, who heads Google’s San Francisco office and directs retail ad sales.

Lasnik also notes that if the ad server gets hung up or delayed, Google pours in results without the ads, giving speed of query results the ultimate priority.

While the PageRank system helped launched Google’s early success and is still “core” technology, Lasnik said there are a number of other factors that now influence what’s deemed most relevant in search results.

“PageRank is one of over 200 quality signals,” he said. “There are five to ten ranking change proposals per week.” He also notes results can be influenced and personalized based on whether the user is logged in to a Google account.

Another misconception is that Web site owners think their overall site has a particular rank in Google’s system. “It’s completely by page, we rank on a page-by-page basis,” said Lasnik.

One staffer said Google co-founder Larry Page has jokingly insisted PageRank was named after him. Another half-serious Pageism floating around Google is Page’s Law, the proposition that every 18 months software performance becomes twice as slow.

Users have their say

Google also has the well-earned reputation as a highly automated system Its massive server farms crawl the Web and spit back results in a fraction of a second. “Speeds of a tenth of a second matter to user happiness,” Lasnik said. “Our research has shown users search more when the results come back in .3 seconds versus .7 seconds.”

But user input plays a role. While it’s pretty obscure, Google does offer a way for users to give feedback when they’re not happy with the results. Lasnik said those comments are reviewed by Google’s search quality team and can influence future results.

At one point, the meeting turned unintentionally educational for some Google staffers.

A slide showed Google’s mission as being to “…organize all of the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

But Daphne Keller, Google’s managing product counsel, was quick to voice a correction.

“Take out the ‘all’,” she said. “It’s important to our company ethos to respect people’s copyrights and protected works, so we don’t say ‘all.'”

It was in fact an error, as ‘all’ does not appear on the company’s official mission statement.

Google is expected to report its second-quarter earnings later today.

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