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Google's Marissa Mayer on search evolution

Google executive on search iterations, such as Twitter, Cuil, human-powered search

Entrepreneur interview by Bambi Francisco Roizen
November 26, 2008
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/57a


In the future, the way we search today - typing into a keyboard, retrieving a list of results - will seem pretty primitive. That's why new search engines keep sprouting up each day. Even though Google continues to squash them all, and grab market share, there is still room for significant innovation. Search is at its infancy, said Marissa Mayer, VP of search products and user experience at Google, in the first of a five-part interview with me at the Vator studios. In this segment, we talk about how search is evolving, and how far we've come. 

Mayer's role at Google has included developing Google's search interface, and launching more than 100 features and products on Google.com. To this end, Marissa's view on how search is going to evolve is pretty valuable, if we want to know what's ahead for Google.  

Mayer looks forward to the day that we can start thinking of search as "answers" rather than a list of things. She also thinks search will become far more personalized in order to become more relevant. (Watch for a future interview in which Marissa talks about how Google is become more social and personalized).

Having started at Google in 1999, Mayer certainly recalls the days when Google was counting the pages they indexed. I asked Mayer how search has improved and how the algorithms have changed in the past decade.

Mayer said that what started off as a simple yet incredibly useful Page rank (the algorithm named after Google co-founder Larry Page) equation has now grown to be "hundreds of signals that go into the ranking function." Additionally, Google has the benefit of a decade to understand user behavior when it comes to how they search and the obstacles they face when searching.

We also talked about search engine optimization, and how this mansion industry is affecting Google's pursuit to create relevant organic search listings. Marissa says people should optimize their pages in order to be indexed appropriately. But there are nefarious attempts to manipulate a page, like "cloaking," that Google is challenged to detect. Cloaking is an SEO technique in which content presented to the search engine is different than what is presented in the browser. The purpose of cloaking is to trick search engines so they display the page, when it would otherwise not.

What about InLinks? I asked, referring to a service that allows you to buy keywords in the text of content pages, and replace those static keywords with hyperlinks to your Web page, resulting in higher page ranking for your Web site. Mayer said that as long as the URL is relevant to the keyword, it's probably OK. “If the link itself accurately reflects the content it’s linking to. It's in the spirit of the Web, and spirt of page rank and our overall relevance algorithm," she said.

We also discussed semantic search, Powerset and what, if any, were Google's plans to incorporate natural language.

"We’re not focused on semantic search," she said. "[But] when you get to extremely large amounts of data you see a precision that mirrors semantic search."

We then moved into the discussion of Twitter, and whether Google had any plans to incorporate a search engine for real-time status information.

Twitter may be great at providing "clues" to news or events, she said. Knowledge of this accumulating sentiment could be used to drive crawlers to be more aggressive in gathering relevant results based on such clues, she said. "Twitter does have some interesting implications," she added.

We also touched on the search experience for Google's Android, and her view of human-powered search engines, such as Aardvark and Mahalo. As for Cuil, which was started by ex-Googlers and whose interface looks like the anti-Google, Mayer said it needs more indexing to better understand the value of its algorithm. 

The final question was what Marissa thought search would be like in five years. You'll have to watch to hear her answer. 

(Note: Marissa was our guest host on Vator Box evaluating SearchMe, WooMe, Viewdle, and Appssavvy. Her other interviews with me, along with our Vator Box segments will be released throughout the coming weeks.)

(This piece was originally posted on the 25th. It was re-published to highlight on the VatorNews homepage)


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