The Consequences Of Bing's Adaptive Search

Word came through the wire last week that Bing will be introducing a new tweak to its results ranking algorithm called "adaptive search." Over the past two years (give or take) Google and Bing have been making tweaks to their ranking codes so that search engine results page listings would become more personalized to the individual end users. The idea behind personalized search was to use search history to provide a more intuitive page of results for each individual user's intent.

For example, if I was in the market for a new rug, and my recent searches were focused around keywords such as "new rug," "buy rug," and "rugs," as I used the engine to search for other information outside of this rug pursuit, my results could show me a focused results page for my most recent non-rug-related query. It would also show me some results that were swayed because of my previous volume of "rug" searches. Adaptive search takes this idea and evolves it.

The concept behind adaptive search is to use search history compounded with actions taken by users after results are delivered to create a smarter results page; as it relates to both listings delivered, and the order by which those listings are ranked, is created. For instance, if I used Bing to do substantial research for the moon landing by searching and clicking on listings, and then I searched on the keyword "Armstrong," while most people might receive a listing for Armstrong Flooring higher on their results page, I may receive listings for Neil Armstrong higher in my results.

Search engines live and die by how user-friendly an experience they provide. Users have come to expect an intuitive experience as they engage with their search engines. Bing is banking on creating an experience for each user that would, in theory, differ from anyone else's pages: a results page that takes into consideration anything and everything a user has searched on in the past.

What that means is that individual users will have individually unique choices. Individually unique choices means that the collective behavior and data of the search engine universe is skewed. Bing's search experience ventures further away from the generally expected "pull" arena (i.e. letting the user tell them what they want) and further into the "push" realm (i.e., telling users what they should be looking for). Bing's understanding of a consumer's intention down the road may be skewed because of assumptions made from a momentary user phase.

Additionally, the average Joe doesn't know that he is being shown a personally tailored page; he assumes the information he is being shown is what everyone else sees (except for a few geo-targeted listings). Because users won't be presented with all of the options and information that they once had, and because they are unaware that they are having a customized experience one could argue that Bing is guiding a consumer's thought process and ideologies, rather than helping them find the correct, complete information to make a sound decision.

Brands could cry foul, as well. Providing a user with assumed results based on previous behavior may tailor listings that were once earned based on what the masses have qualified. For instance (continuing with my previous search session), if I were in the market for a new floor, and I searched on the word "flooring," having previously searched on the word "armstrong" as part of my moon landing research, I may be shown the listing for "Armstrong Flooring," while others would see more communally qualified listings.

Granted, there probably aren't many users in that moon landing/ flooring predicament, but I am just one user, and that is just one unique instance. The bigger issue is the bigger picture: every time I'm shown results, I'm being nudged in a specific thought direction that is in turn telegraphing everything that I see in the future, which in the end is skewing the collective conscience.

Brands should keep an eye on their Bing-related site traffic as these changes are rolled out. All things considered, with all of the countless variables to think about, the site results probably won't sway too significantly in any direction, and may just be another point for the brand to consider.

Unique results delivered to unique users may sound like a nightmare for SEOers, but it shouldn't be. In the end results pages will always need to take into consideration which sites are the most commonly qualified pages based on the search query. Even if results are taking into consideration a users previous queries, the results will always be listed from the best to the worst, and so a SEOer will always need to make sure that their brand is in the best position to show when Bing ranks them.

In the end, search engines will continue to move in this direction of trying to keep ahead of the consumer's intentions at the cost of potentially making some erroneous assumptions and slanting the collective data.

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1 comment about "The Consequences Of Bing's Adaptive Search".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , September 23, 2011 at 2:23 p.m.

    Very dangerous. See The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser of TED.