A few weeks ago we had a visitor at the Googleplex: Rob Hof, the Silicon Valley bureau chief at BusinessWeek. Rob talked to a bunch of Googlers and sat in on one of our weekly quality-leads meetings. The resulting story is out now. The first part of the story covers some of the challenges facing Google, but the second part gets into more detail than we normally get into.
What’s even more interesting is that BusinessWeek put up transcripts of some of the interviews. You can read interviews with:
- Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO
- Udi Manber, vice-president of engineering and head of the search quality group
- Amit Singhal, head of Google’s core ranking team in the search quality group
- Scott Huffman, head of the group that evaluates quality in the search quality group
- me (Matt Cutts). I’m the head of the webspam team in the search quality group
Org-chart-wise, it looks like this:
Eric Schmidt would be at the top of the cloud, Udi would be the “Search Quality” box, I’d be in the webspam box, and Amit and Scott lead teams within the “Other groups” part.
The two interviews I liked the most were Amit’s and Scott’s. Amit sums up Google’s philosophy toward real-time, he discusses our pragmatic (yet algorithmic) approach to search, and our attitude toward our users:
Q: I think the criticism is: Where’s the money in those [non-search/ads parts of Google]?
A: The right way to look at it is not the money. Is there value to the users? If you bring value to the users, I think we will succeed in the long run. Some things make more money than others, but as long as we keep bringing value to the world, we will be successful.
I liked Scott’s interview because he goes into more detail of how we evaluate search quality than I’ve seen in the past. Evaluating search quality is really hard to get right. I also liked this quote:
But the other thing we always do is we go in and look in more detail at what are some of the individual positive and negative things that we’re getting out of this. Are the positive things really that positive, will they really make a difference to our users? And maybe more important, for the negative things, how important are they, can we live with them?
At the entrance to Google’s main cafe, there’s three doors. Two are normal doors that you pull to open, and they always work. The other door is a spiffy automatic door that slides open for you–except that the automatic door seems to be broken about 5-10% of the time. When the automatic door works, it’s very cool and you’d definitely prefer to use it. But when the door is broken, you’re left standing in front of a glass door and you feel like a dork as you wave your hands, move around, and generally try to get the “automatic” door to open for you. I’ve noticed that many people stopped using the sometimes-broken automatic door and instead always go straight to the reliable doors.
Search can be kind of like that door in a lot of ways. Spiffy features are great, but if they’re wrong or don’t trigger in some reasonable way that your mind can predict, the failure is worse somehow. The same holds true with the organic search results: a catastrophic search failure can stick in your mind much more than the 200 searches that worked well. Search quality evaluation is tricky because you need to take that factor plus hundreds more into account. It’s taken years for Google to really evaluate our quality well, and we still continue to learn important new things.
If you really want to understand more about how Google thinks, I highly recommend Amit’s and Scott’s interviews. They’re a great reminder to me that we have a very deep bench of smart, well-spoken people in the search quality group and in Google in general. I would love to see more Googlers talking about their work.
And finally, on the subject of Googlers talking about their work, a whole bunch of Googlers will be at the Search Marketing Expo East in New York this week. Joachim Kupke will talk about duplicate content, Ari Bezman will talk about maps, Jack Menzel will talk about what’s next in search and universal search, Jeremy Hylton will talk about real-time search, Maile Ohye will talk about best practices for search, Matthew Liu will talk about YouTube, and Frederick Vallaeys will answer questions about AdWords.
Also, don’t miss Bruce Johnson and Kathrin Probst from Google. They’ll be on the “CSS, AJAX, Web 2.0 & SEO” panel. If you’re at SMX East, I think you’ll enjoy that panel.