Eric Enge posted an interesting interview with Udi Manber of Google (Udi is a VP of Engineering at Google). Udi mentions that the goal of personalization is to improve overall search relevance (not to make SEO harder). Udi also talked about trying to make Google’s search algorithms more elegant:
[W]e have projects that their sole purpose is to reduce complexity. A team may go and work for two months on a new simpler sub-algorithm. If it performs the same as the previous algorithm, but it’s simpler, that will be a big win and people are encouraged to do that, and some of the improvements that we are making over time are those kinds of improvements.
It’s also nice to get more backup on the role of humans in Google search quality:
Eric Enge: What about the notion of the role of humans in search? There is another post by Matt Cutts where he talks a little bit about ways that Google is using human input. People can say they don’t want to see a particular site in their results, or they can vote on it if they have a Google Toolbar installed, and that sort of thing. Do you see Google looking for more ways to, scalable ways obviously to take advantage of human input?
Udi Manber: Absolutely. As Matt has said, we have done it from the beginning. If a website points to another website, that’s a signal, that’s a signal from a user and we use that signal. If somebody says they don’t like a particular search result that’s a signal. So, we’ve been using that for a long time, and we are working on new ways of using it.
Q: How do they tell if they [Google] have bad results?
A: They have a bunch of watchdog services that track uptime for various servers to make sure a bad one isn’t causing problems. In addition, they have 10,000 human evaluators who are always manually checking the relevance of various results.
At this point, if you think that Google doesn’t try to utilize human feedback in scalable, robust ways then you need to adjust your mental model. See some of the previous discussion for more background.