The Most Relevant Search Engine
Search engines summarize contents of web-pages juxtaposed by quantity and quality of incoming and outgoing links, in order to arrive at relevance of a web-page. To a viewer who queries search engines for a given phrase, all that matters is the results that come up ought to contain the most relevant content with respect to search phrase.
The Search Engine Experiment
Given that, it will be interesting to know which search engine brings up the most relevant results in response to search queries. A free ready-to-use service – The Search Engine Experiment - offered by WebMasterBrain attempts to answer this question. What it does is simultaneously querying Google, Yahoo and MSN for a search phrase you enter, and then fetching the 3 most relevant answers for each of them. Names of engines are kept anonymous, while you’re asked to select which set of 3 answers best corresponds to your expectation of relevancy. When you click your choice, the answer is revealed immediately, and your selection goes to add on to the tally of the search engine chosen.
Critics may argue that the test is flawed. However, for all its worth, it’s a good pointer to determining relevancy of search results. I used the service 3 times, and on 2 occasions the answer turned out to be Yahoo, and Google once. I was a trifle disappointed, for my favorite search engine is Google. But then I appreciate that relevancy of search results and bias toward a search engine do not always go hand-in-hand.
Google Heads Tally
According to WebMasterBrain, the aggregate tally indicates a clear lead for Google (42.07%) over Yahoo (31.21%) and MSN (26.72%) for the entire experiment period till date (20 Nov to 15 Dec, 2005; 15558 searches). Note that this test doesn’t convey that relevancy of search results would automatically mean popularity of a search engine.
In this respect, it’s worth referring to Danny Sullivan’s related findings. In his 2-part article, ‘The End of Size Wars?’, Danny argues that quantum or count of search results is not proof enough of comprehensiveness. Producing an assortment of search information backed with logic, Danny propounds that no engine can be considered god-sent to answer all search queries with equal aplomb. Results vary from one to another, though for one particular search query, he found
“..Google slightly more comprehensive than Yahoo!, but Yahoo! isn't bad and is ahead of Ask and MSN.”
How Worth It Is
Given an inherent arbitrariness, how worth it is to occupy a top search result slot? To answer that, let’s refer the research work of Professor Thorsten Joachims and colleagues at Cornell University, The Power of Defaults. The research shows that as many as 42% of users click on top search hit, and 8% click the second hit. Blame it on gullibility of web users (as Prof. Joachims rightly feels) or anything else, a top search position will remain a dream worth chasing, relevancy notwithstanding.
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