Here we are on Day 1 of SES Toronto and after a nice lunch (I had pizza), it's back to business - the busiess of PageRank. As the breadth of digital information continues to grow at speeds only known to Superman (and perhaps the Flash), we need to slow down and ponder a simple question - which of the current search engines, if any, can keep up? Will we see something new - Wolfram Alpha and Bing have had a big launches within the past few weeks and they are offering an experience that greatly diverts from the Google experience - especially when speaking of Wolfram Alpha.

Let's see what our panel has to say, which will be moderated by Andrew Goodman, SES Advisory Board and Page Zero Media.

Stacey Jarvis, Search Lead, Consumer & Online, Microsoft Canada

  • 98% of all online Canadians are using Search and on average, we are making 4-5 unique queries a day (I would say I'm upwards of 4-5 hundred...)
  • So clearly, this whole search thing has caught on and has become quite popular, but the funny thing is that despite its popularity and a 98% penetration rate, we have not seen satisfaction improve.
  • Can we really say that search engines are truly evolving when the users aren't being satisfied? We hear about how its all about the User Experience, but the users disagrees. Let's look at some stats:
  • Only 1 in 4 searches lead to a satisfied result - people are refining, using that nifty back button (34% quick click backs) and refining their queries
  • 15% of all queries are completely abandoned - people don't have the time to continually refine their queries until they find the information they're looking for.
  • So what does this mean?
  • Well, what this means is that because of this dissatisfaction, we're seeing search sessions becoming longer, with 42% of users having to refine their queries
  • Take local search, if someone Google's Toronto, what are they looking for? Weather? Restaurants? Hotels? Users will click back and refine their query..."Toronto sushi restaurants". Wouldn't it be nice if a search engine could anticipate the user's need and provide them with relevant information? That would be nice, which opens up the market for...
  • Innovation
  • There must be a way to make this easier, there must be a way to improve the user experience other than just relying on PageRank. Sure, those 10 blue links are nice, but 50% of query sessions take over 30 minutes to refine those 10 blue links until the user finds relevant information. In fact, only 9% of all search query sessions are under 3 minutes in length.
  • This is where we see new players coming into the market, like Wolfram Alpha and Bing, which both try to address certain pain points people experience through traditional search.
  • Will they succeed? That remains to be seen, but the mere fact that we are seeing search look at something other than Rank is giving some traction to these ideas.
  • People use search to make life decisions and any new player in the market that can address these major pain points and provide highly relevant information without the need for refinement, may have a leg up on an engine such as Google who relies so heavily on PageRank.

Bryan Eisenberg, SES Advisory Board & Co-Founder, Future Now Inc.

  • The key is to put the user first, not the technology. We can talk all we want about the complexities of search algorithms, and the leaps being take to enhance the user experience, but if that user experience isn't actually improving, perhaps its time for another player to look at giving the user exactly what they want.
  • Of course, this isn't easy - people have their own preferences and they prefer to get their data in many different ways - can one search engine provide this experience to everyone? Unlikely. But that isn't to say there can be improvements upon how we cater to the different personality types out there.
  • Now, with all that said about giving the user what they need, maybe the user is the problem, not the search engines. Do we need to better educate people on how to search? Or should the onus really be on the search engines? This is an interesting question - starting to train children in school on how to find the information they need could lead to a more sophisticated population of searchers.

Tim Schigel, CEO, Share This

  • We don't need a new algorithim, we need a new system - we need to pursue a different path and stray away from developing and refining algorithms
  • ShareThis, for example, is not a search engine. What it does is aggregate all the sharing tools and provide free analytics to publishers.
  • Make it easier for publishers and users to share
  • How do we find and navigate information? The rate at which new information is being published far exceeds the human ability to filter that information. Who filters it? The search engines are trying, but we rely on those close to us, our network, to filter for us. It comes down to trust, and a large percentage of the population still does not trust the results that search engines are offering up.
  • Navigation needs to be based around people, around interests, around relationships as opposed to content, links etc...
  • Everyone shares - 93% of people share, and people share what matters.
  • 69% of adults cite email as primary source for finding new content.
  • 30% of youth rely on Social Networks.
  • Sharing data is very valuable - 81% share to help someone who would benefit - I know you're going on vacation, I find a travel deal, I will send it to you, because I know you will benefit from it.
  • A different system - not search, but share
  • Users want more trust and relevance in their answers.

So How do We Increase User Satisfaction?

  • Stacey - Bing has new features that are trying to address this - new navigation, explorer pain that tries to interpret what people are looking for - anticipating intent, especially in categories such as Health where we know that people refine - aggregate data and scroll quickly to find that information
  • Have we given up on the idea of making people better searches?
  • Bryan - is on his children's school board and is pushing to educate students on how to search, how to find information accurately and efficiently.
  • Stacey - can we put it on the schools though? the majority of times the youth spend online, they spend searching. The children are growing up with this, they are learning how to search - it's older folk that need to be educated, the more savvy they become, the even savvier the youth will become.
  • Finding and navigating information is what we're looking at - search is only one of those.
  • Tim - ShareThis - be where the content is, not all aggregated in one place, but offer the tools to find the information you're looking for.

Is the onus on the consumer, or is it on the engine? Should the engines be providing a better experience, or should searchers become more sophisticated - this is the number one question that has come out of this discussion.

So there you have it, another great session at SES Toronto, moderated expertly by Andrew Goodman with some great insight into PageRank, in all its glory, from Bryan, Tim and Stacey.

Can Google's PageRank keep up with the rate at which we're seeing new digital informating being generated? Is the onus on the search engine or the user? You've heard what the experts have to say, now we'll have to wait and see.... place your bets now.