How does Google think about search quality when it relies on subjective signals?

How does Google think about search quality when it relies on subjective signals? - answered by Matt Cutts

Matt's answer:

MATT CUTTS: We have a philosophical question today from Dimwit. And I am a sucker for the questions about philosophy. So let’s ask. How can Google be confident with their SERPs, when relying on inherently subjective signals that influence which sites display, that is using human quality raters to evaluate entire domains without the context of the search query itself? Well there’s an implicit assumption in this question that’s not right, which is that you don’t have the context of the search query itself. A large part of what the human quality raters do is they take a search and they actually look at the side by side. So they don’t just look at the side by side without knowing why we’re seeing this. They actually do see the context of the search query itself. So it can be a little difficult to maybe step into the mental mindset if you didn’t actually choose that query, but you are able to look at a domain and the search query and figure out how those two interrelate. There is another sort of little bit of philosophy buried in this, which is inherently there are subjective signals. And I would agree with that. I think people who think that search engines are completely objective ignore the fact that every search engine has its own philosophy. Every search engine has its own set of algorithms. And those algorithms encode the ranking philosophy of that search engine. And some algorithms will veer more towards diversity. Some might show Wikipedia more. Every search engine is going to have different ideas about what the ideal set of search results is. And there is no scientifically provable best way to rank websites. So it’s always going to be a little bit subjective. I think on the bright side, what we do is we try to listen to outside feedback. We’ve had people like Ahmet [? Sengal ?] who have been ranking and dealing with information retrieval for longer than a lot of SEOs have been alive. If you’re a young SEO, he got his Ph.D. in information retrieval. And a lot of us have been working on it for a long time. And so I think we have a relatively fine tuned sense of when people will get angry, when they’ll be unhappy. So, for example, with Panda, we were actually working on trying to spot low quality content, the sort of thing that’s in between the quality team and the web spam team, that sort of low quality that’s not quite spam but almost spam. We were working on that for months and thinking about that for months before we started to see the larger public get a little bit angry about that. So I think we do have to say to ourselves, like any engineering organization, it’s possible for people to be wrong. It’s possible for us to show not enough domain diversity or too much domain diversity. And that’s why it’s important that we listen to what people say from outside Google and hear that feedback as well. But we do try to make sure that our quality raters, for example, have good context, and that they can typically see the search queries so that they can judge, OK, when I’m looking at a website, is a really good match for what this search query is looking for? Or is it not as much of a good match? Thanks for the question.

by Matt Cutts - Google's Head of Search Quality Team


Original video: