Recent posts in my Search Category

September 14, 2012

“How to make friends. And influence robots” - Martin Belam at BrightonSEO

This is a version of the talk I gave at BrightonSEO on September 14th 2012.

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February 14, 2012

“Social media, investigative journalism, ethics and security” - Nicola Hughes at news:rewired

As part of news:rewired earlier this month, there were workshop sessions on skills like SEO and datajournalism. Leading one of the sessions was Nicola Hughes, aka DataMinerUK, teaching people how to use social media for search. Here are my notes from a session that raised interesting issues of ethics and security for investigative journalists using social media.

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January 11, 2012

SEO is dead. Again.

The launch of Google’s “Search, plus Your World” launch has started a round of people exclaiming that SEO is dead. Again. I’m trying to find out exactly when the fatality took place - and the earliest claim I can find is March 2005.

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November 1, 2011

“Searching 1,000 years of history at the National Archives” - Tim Gollins at Enterprise Search Europe

At the recent Enterprise Search Europe conference where I was talking about search on Guardian Books and the future of search, the most entertaining and illuminating talk I saw was by Tim Gollins, Head of Digital Preservation at the National Archives. Here are my notes from his talk.

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October 26, 2011

“The future of search” - Martin Belam at Enterprise Search Europe

Yesterday I was at the Enterprise Search Europe conference in London, and helped wrap up the day by taking part in a panel entitled “The future of search”. Here’s a brief round-up of what I said - including the quote above, which I may well adopt as my new motto: “The future is unevenly distributed...and I’m at the shiny end.”

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June 15, 2011

“Come as you are” - Part 2: The BBC years

This is the second part of my essay version of “Come as you are”, a talk I gave at the Polish IA Summit which looks back at my digital career and draws out what I think are the key lessons for information architects and user experience practitioners. This post looks at my time working at the BBC between 2000 and 2005.

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June 2, 2011

But who actually answered the question: “What time does the Super Bowl start?”

A link was doing the rounds today to a thought-provoking blog post by Donald Mahoney about journalism in a “post-content farm” world. Unfortunately, the thoughts it mostly provoked in me were: “You’ve missed the point”.

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April 13, 2011

"Designing the search experience" - Marianne Sweeny at the Polish IA Summit

I’ve just come back from Poland, where I was giving the opening keynote session at the Polish IA Summit, and this week I’m posting my notes from the rest of the sessions I saw in Warsaw. Today I’ve got my notes from the opening session of day two - “Designing the search experience (Not your mom’s SEO)” by Marianne Sweeny

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March 24, 2011

SEO at the BBC: The early years

Yesterday I blogged some notes I’d made as The Guardian’s SEO Editorial Executive Chris Moran talked about how he went about his job in a newsroom in 2010.

It made an amusing contrast to the humble way I went about SEO for the BBC when I started there in 2000. My first job was “Registration co-ordinator”, a role I shared with the wonderful Anne Scott.

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March 23, 2011

Chris Moran explaining SEO at The Guardian

A couple of weeks ago at The Guardian our SEO Editorial Executive Chris Moran gave a talk about SEO to an assembled bunch of people from around the business. He said: “A lot of the opinions people have about SEO are based upon prejudice and a lack of understanding about how search engines work.”. Here are my notes from his talk.

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February 15, 2011

New York Times article on SEO delves into the real link economy

A link to a New York Times piece on the world of SEO has been doing the rounds for the last few days - “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search”. If you've never really delved into the SEO world then it is a decent layman's introduction.

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February 9, 2011

BBC Sport defends itself against accusations of selling paid SEO links on BBC Online

There has been a bit of a storm in a teacup this week over whether the BBC is selling links on the BBC Sport site, prompted by this blog post from Sam Rutley. Lewis Wiltshire, Editor of the BBC Sport site, has utterly refuted the claims. Most news organisations are a little naive about the cash value of links on their domains.

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February 3, 2011

Google and Bing - 3 quick points about their spat

Three quick things about the highly enjoyable spat between Google & Microsoft over whether Bing has been stealing search results.

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January 18, 2011

Is Google the real key to Wikipedia's success?

The Internet has been celebrating the 10th anniversary of Wikipedia, which is held up as the poster child of crowd-sourcing and the proof of the existence of what Clay Shirky calls the 'cognitive surplus' that the web enables us to harness. I do wonder, though, whether Google gets enough credit for the success of Wikipedia.

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December 20, 2010

news:rewired - “SEO is a four letter word”

As part of my series of notes from the news:rewired event I attended last week, here is what I made of the search engine optimisation session, where, frankly, Malcolm Coles just talked filth...

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December 7, 2010

"Understand your data!" - Iain Fletcher on optimising search technology at Online Information 2010

Last week I was at the Online Information conference in London. Here are my notes from a talk by Iain Fletcher of Search Technologies, who explained how the fundamental of understanding your data was key to providing a decent enterprise or site search experience.

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October 20, 2010

Reactions to Guardian Linked Data and "Search at The Guardian"

Some bits and piece from around the web about a couple of things I've been involved with at The Guardian this week - the inclusion of MusicBrainz IDs and ISBN numbers in our content API, and the "Search at The Guardian" event I helped run on Monday.

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October 19, 2010

"Search at The Guardian" - London Enterprise Search meet-up

Last night at Kings Place I helped Tyler Tate put on the latest London Enterprise Search meet-up, which we called "Search at The Guardian". We had 7 people speaking, and I was really pleased that we covered a range of search related topics, with talks from people with varying roles at GNM.

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October 6, 2010

Details of speakers at the "Search at The Guardian" Enterprise Search meet-up

I'm able to release a few more details about our "Search at The Guardian" event on Monday 18th October at Kings Place.

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September 27, 2010

"Search at The Guardian" on October 18th

A couple of weeks ago it was announced that we would be holding an event called "Search at The Guardian" at our Kings Place office on Monday October 18th. It is part of a series of regular meet-ups held by Enterprise Search London group. Speakers will include Stephen Dunn, Mat Wall, Graham Tackley, Thibaut Sacreste and Daniel Levitt.

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November 26, 2009

Google's recursive lunar image swirls

Google Image Search has been in the news this week for all the wrong reasons, but I've been concentrating on playing with a Labs version of Image Search - Google Image Swirl. It is an interesting variation on the usual grid view that has become the industry standard. I'm not sure that I'd use it exclusively, for a start the data indexed is limited, but it does give you a different way of researching images. And you can generate some...
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November 6, 2009

Ecommerce Expo: Part 5 - Product information management and site search optimisation

Over the last week or so I've been posting a whole series of notes and quotes from the recent Ecommerce Expo, looking at multi-variant testing, optimising shopping carts, social commerce, semantic ecommerce and ticket-touting brand building and online marketing. In this last part I want to look at two presentations, one about information management, and one about internal site search. "Product information management: The next Ecommerce opportunity" - Steve Lovatt, Pinder You simply can't argue with a presentation that has...
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October 27, 2009

Paid search and politics - still some learning for the parties to do

A couple of days ago Peter Moore wrote an interesting post about politics and paid search, pointing out how Channel 4 had used Google AdWords to catch some of the search traffic generated by the BNP appearance on BBC's Question Time. He pointed out that: "Paid search has the potential to make an enormous difference [in an election]...It’s possible to carefully study and collect keywords, to manage and monitor huge campaigns that include short and long tail terms as well...
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October 19, 2009

Guess which Jan Moir article is missing from the Daily Mail's search results?

Funny old world, the Internet, eh? If you search the Daily Mail website today for the most recent articles by or about Jan Moir, there seems to be one missing. I wonder if you can guess which one it is? I think it must just be one of those weird coincidences that looks more suspicious than it is when your site is under intense scrutiny on the web. If you click the 'All by this author' link the notorious Stephen...
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September 9, 2009

"Where can I find the UKs cheapest cars" - hey, we are number #1 for this really long search phrase!

I've written before about the trend towards asking users to search for a specific phrase in marketing material as an easier way to help users navigate on the web rather than remembering URLs. I just saw an example of it taken to an absolute extreme. In Metro this morning, the strapline for a advert was to 'Just Google it', with the proud boast at the foot of the page: "For the search term 'where can I find the UKs...
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July 26, 2009

Phillip Bradshaw, inept senior search consultant and "SEO expert", take a bow!

By writing about the inept SEO approaches I often get, I'm dignifying them with more time than they deserve, but I did enjoy this recent one from Phillip Bradshaw, senior search consultant at bFirst, who seems to have form in this area. "I am writing to inform you that I recently visited your website,, during a routine survey of web sites which may be capable of higher search engine performance resulting in an increase in online sales. I hope...
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July 9, 2009

Michael Jackson and search at The Guardian

With the memorial service over, it looks like we'll now gradually see diminishing amounts of column inches devoted to Michael Jackson. I wanted thought to put down some of my thoughts about what the reaction to his death tells us about search on the Internet, and on news sites. There were a lot of articles looking at the reaction of search engines to the news. This is always one of the cases that fascinates me about the whole problem of...
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June 16, 2009

I've got a hunch about 'Hunch' people

You can tell we are going through a mini-revolution in search, because people aren't just launching search engines that aren't Google, they are launching things like 'computational engines' and 'decision engines'. The latter, Hunch, only appeared in the last couple of days. What I really found engaging about it is that as soon as you visit it entices you into playing a game. It is a brilliant way of building up a user profile, and much, much, much more fun...
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June 2, 2009

A Google-eye view of the European Elections

A lot of people do their primary research these days using Google as their only gateway to the Internet, and I wondered what they would be finding if they were looking for information on the parties standing for Thursday's European Elections in London. The mainstream parties All of the mainstream party listings in Google are pretty similar. The initial homepage metadata in all cases stresses the name of the party leader. Who says personality politics is dead? The second...
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May 7, 2009

The Guardian Open Platform at Endeca's e-Business Forum

I've been posting this week about my visit to Endeca's office in Richmond for the "Endeca e-Business Forum". I went because Endeca were one of the launch partners of The Guardian's Open Platform API, and they power our internal site search engine. The Head of The Guardian's Developer Network, Matt McAlister, was giving the final presentation of the day - a case study about the Open Platform. The Open Platform API The Open Platform API Explorer uses the Endeca engine...
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May 6, 2009 and Euroffice at the Endeca e-Business Forum

Yesterday I posted some of my notes from a trip to Endeca's Richmond office to attend the "Endeca e-Business Forum". They covered Ashley Freidlein's keynote talk about "Beautiful Basics". Today I wanted to look at some of my other notes from the event. Most of the presentations had a dual format, with a presenter from Endeca demonstrating some of the features of the platform, followed by a customer case study of how they had implemented them. It is always intriguing...
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April 13, 2009

Web search at the BBC: Extras

Part of the reason for publishing my recent history of the BBC's web search service was because I had unzipped a load of old files on my PC, and discovered the original usability reports. As well as the articles on currybetdotnet, I've also made some material available elsewhere on the net. Presentation On SlideShare you can find a couple of examples of the typical sort of search related presentation I used to give within the BBC in 2003. "BBCi...
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April 7, 2009

Web search at the BBC: Part 9 - The end is the beginning is the end

I've been writing a series of posts looking at my memories of the development of the BBC's now discontinued web search service. By 2004, I'd moved on to other things within the BBC. The BBC homepage was re-designed again, this time to reflect another re-brand, from BBCi to At the same time the search box was changed from defaulting to web search to defaulting to site search, with the marketing-driven label: "Explore more than 2 million amazing BBC...
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April 6, 2009

Web search at the BBC: Part 8 - Editions of you

I've put together a series of posts looking at how the BBC developed their web search service. During 2002 and 2003 it was a strategic priority for the BBC New Media department, but earlier this year it was shut down. Usability testing at Serco Post-launch, in August 2002, Vincent Helyar & Kate Taylor at Serco produced another user testing report for the BBC about search. Some of their key findings were: The uncluttered layout of results pages was popular...
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April 3, 2009

Web search at the BBC: Part 7 - Shake and crawl

I have been writing a series of posts looking at what I remember of the development of the BBC's web search service, which was recently closed. The service was not always well received internally, and it was certainly unpopular in some quarters outside of the BBC. During the time that the BBC offered web search it used four different technology partners. The initial contract was with Google, and they were replaced as search provider by Inktomi. Inktomi were subsequently...
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April 2, 2009

Web search at the BBC: Part 6 - TV on the radio

Over the last week or so I've been writing up my recollections of the BBC's web search, which was launched in the early part of this decade. In January, having survived both a 2004 DCMS and a 2008 BBC Trust review, Seetha Kumar announced that it was finally being removed from BBC Online. Today I want to look at how the BBC marketed the ability to search the web from Television marketing The web search service initially had...
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March 31, 2009

Web search at the BBC: Part 5 - The path of least resistance

I've been writing up my recollections of the development, rise and fall of the web search provided by the BBC site. I worked on it in the earlier part of this decade, but in January this year the BBC finally shut the service down. It had never been popular internally. Between 2002 and 2004 the BBCi homepage had web search as one of the main features above the fold. Having the external search service up-front-and-centre in that way was...
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March 30, 2009

Web search at the BBC: Part 4 - Glass onion

In recent years the BBC website was also a place where you could, perhaps rather unexpectedly, search the web using the BBC's search service. In January this year it was discontinued, and so I thought it might be a good time to review the development, rise and fall of the service. Today I'm looking at a period when searching the web became one of the dominant features on the BBC's homepage. In splendid isolation in basements in Bush House...
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March 27, 2009

Web search at the BBC: Part 3 - Centerfield

The BBC recently shut down the web search option it used to have on, and so I thought it might be an appropriate time to look at the rise and fall of searching the web using the BBC. Over the last couple of days I've been looking at some of the user-testing carried out by the Corporation in 2001 prior to launching the service. Photo courtesy of Beatnic At this stage the BBC's New Media department was housed...
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March 26, 2009

Web search at the BBC: Part 2 - Over the horizon radar

This year the BBC has withdrawn the Corporation's web search service that I worked on for several years at the turn of the century. Yesterday I started a series of posts looking at the history of how it was developed, including some screenshots of design that were user-tested with Flow Interactive in August 2001. A second iteration of testing was carried out a month later, and by now the design of the search results had begun to take a...
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March 25, 2009

Web search at the BBC: Part 1 - The beginning is the end is the beginning

"A key part of BBCi's mission has always been to offer a trusted guide to the Web. Over the years we've helped thousands of people to use the Internet through our WebWise training and through our WebGuide to the best sites on the Web. Now, with 80 per cent of those asked believing that current search engines could be better, according to a recent NOP survey, BBCi is developing its role as a trusted guide by launching BBCi Search...
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March 24, 2009

Professor Karen Spärck Jones - 'Ada Lovelace Day' blog post

"I think it's very important to get more women into computing. My slogan is: Computing is too important to be left to men." - Professor Karen Spärck Jones Professor Karen Spärck Jones is one of the pivotal figures in the history of the development of the search engine as we know it today. In 1972 she published the paper "A statistical interpretation of term specificity and its application in retrieval" which introduced the concept of 'inverse document frequency'. This is...
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March 5, 2009

Searching in vain for Amazon's Kindle in the UK

Amazon have built their business on delivering a service both physically and virtually, and are variously credited with inventing online recommendation engines, the shopping basket concept and affiliate marketing programmes. They have a reputation for consistently delivering good user experience. Which is why, when they appear to be getting something wrong, it really sticks out. Their move into hardware with the Kindle has generated a great buzz of both sides of the Atlantic, even though it is only available on...
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February 15, 2009

At least Daily Express readers are still searching for Madeleine McCann

I have a little Perl script that runs each morning, and checks what the popular searches are on the Daily Express website. I know it is a little childish, but it just amuses me so much that they are obviously editorially chosen rather than a real reflection of what users are doing, and, more importantly, that they seldom ever change. I got a little bit excited in April last year when they suddenly dropped 'Princess Diana' from the list. The...
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January 31, 2009

Google thinks Google may harm your computer

I think Google's malware detection algorithm has gone a bit wrong this afternoon. It doesn't seem to matter what I search for - The Telegraph, the BBC, even 'currybet' - Google is delivering the damning "This site may harm your computer" verdict. Even, in fact, when you search for Google itself......
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January 26, 2009

Is 'Search online for "Act on CO2"' costing the taxpayer unnecessary pay-per-click money?

Tamlyn posted late last week after spotting that the Government's 'Act on CO2' campaign was asking people to search for the term rather than publishing a URL. It is a trend that Cabel Sasser noted is well established in Japan, where the fact that URLs have to be formatted in the Western alphabet is a significant marketing challenge. The trouble with the Government initiative is that once you announce that you are asking people to search for specific non-trademarked terms,...
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January 13, 2009

'Nofollow' and Twitter's crisis of trust

A couple of weeks back, @onpause and I were discussing on Twitter whether URL-shortening had any impact on the value that Twitter links passed on through to Google. I was pointing out that, sadly, Twitter is one of those places where the use of rel="nofollow" on all outbound links has rendered it virtually worthless for search engine purposes. I got halfway through writing a blog post about why this was a shame, when suddenly Twitter seems to have become consumed...
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January 11, 2009

Local search: Seeing the UK's regional press through the eyes of Google

I've been writing a series of posts looking at site search across some of the UK's leading regional papers. Yesterday I published a table of their features. In this last part of the series, I want to take a slightly different approach. I'm looking not at how people can search for content on the sites themselves, but how the sites appear when people search for them in Google. Google 'Search-in-search' Norfolk's Eastern Daily Press site was the only site...
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January 10, 2009

Local search: Using site search in regional press websites - Part 4

Over the last 3 days I've been looking at the site search services provided across the 20 regional newspaper sites that I have been studying. The quality of the services varied widely, from a site like EDP24 basically begging the user to go off and try Google News instead, to the 'This is...' network of sites providing a sophisticated faceted filtering mechanism. Today I wanted to publish a couple of table featuring a summary of some of my findings...
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January 9, 2009

Local search: Using site search in regional press websites - Part 3

This week I've been writing a series of posts looking at the site search facilities provided by some of the UK's leading regional newspapers.   Eastern Daily Press The EDP24 site has a very small search box located in the very top right-hand side of the homepage. This is labelled with an image that says 'News Database', and is titled 'Story search'. When the results page initially loads, it is hard to see any results, as there are three large...
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January 7, 2009

Local search: Using site search in regional press websites - Part 1

Since the end of November I have been publishing a rather loose collection of articles looking at some of the features of the UK's leading regional newspaper sites. I've picked 20 sites that represent the print papers with the largest circulation, and cover the major publishing groups. So far I've looked at the provision of online video, local news RSS feeds and their subscriber numbers, and the spread of social bookmarking links through the sites. Today I'm starting a...
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December 14, 2008

Chipwrapper now available with time-slices

I can officially announce that the Russell Brand furore is over for the British press. Well, nearly. In the last week the national papers only managed to publish 270-odd stories to mention the ex-BBC comedian. At the height of the scandal, between them, they managed to churn out something like 440 articles a week referencing him. How do I know these figures? Well, not because I've counted them, that's for sure. Instead I've been using Chipwrapper's new time-slicing feature. Ever...
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December 12, 2008

Thoughts, notes and quotes from the Online Information 2008 Seminars: Part 3

Over the last couple of days I've been sharing some of my thoughts, notes and the best quotes from the seminar sessions I got to see at the recent Online Information expo in Olympia. I was there talking about emerging trends to help information professionals escape down-sizing in the coming months, and so far I've published two posts summing up sessions that focussed on social media and on content and information management issues. Today I'm writing about the VIP...
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December 4, 2008

Reactions to my post on the Mumbai terrorist attack search engine response

There was quite a bit of interest in my post last week about search engine response to the Mumbai terror attacks. A couple of the comments left here disagreed with my premise. Matthew Cain made the point that it would be no help to Mumbai's recovery from the attacks to have search engine users constantly reminded of the events. He posted about it over on his BacAtU blog, and I left the following comment there: "Yes, I do see your...
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November 26, 2008

Mumbai terrorist attacks show that search engines still can't get breaking news right

We are used to hearing that search engines are one of the primary routes that people find news on the net, but I've just been having a scout around the three major search engines as news of the terrorist attack in Mumbai unfolds, and I have to say that they are not performing very well. Google does have some news results inserted into the one word search for 'mumbai', but they are not in the top slot. Searching for 'india'...
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November 21, 2008

Taking the 'Ooh' out of Google: Getting site search right - Part 12

Yesterday I began to wrap up my series of posts about getting site search right with the start of a step-by-step guide to transforming the style of Google results that users are familiar with, into something with a richer user experience. Add structured data Google understands a lot about the structure of the web. It understands how all the pages that it has crawled on your site are linked together, and uses this to understand what the key pages...
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November 20, 2008

Taking the 'Ooh' out of Google: Getting site search right - Part 11

Transforming your results During the course of this series of articles, I've looked at various elements of interface design which have been employed, for better or for worse, across a wide range of European newspaper websites. Today I'm going to wrap up the series by laying out a step-by-step transformation of Google's search results listing into something that presents users who opt for 'site search' with a richer UI experience. Google's layout In part 2 of this series, I...
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November 18, 2008

Taking the 'Ooh' out of Google: Getting site search right - Part 10

Over the last couple of weeks I've been publishing a series of posts about getting site search right, based on my presentation at the 2008 Amsterdam Euro IA Summit. Today I wanted to look at some examples of poor search user experience design which you should seek to avoid. Don't use confusing gimmicks Lots of search technologies come with plenty of features in them for displaying relevancy to the user - almost all of them useless. Giving results a...
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November 14, 2008

8 Search APIs for Hack Days

I spent most of yesterday at The Guardian's first ever internal Hack Day. I gave one of the short five minute 'lightning' talks that got the event kicked off. I wanted to outline a few of the search related APIs out there that might prove useful as people put their hacks together. Here's the written down version... Google AJAX Search API I'll start with the big one - the Google AJAX Search API. This lets you put Google Search in...
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November 13, 2008

Taking the 'Ooh' out of Google: Getting site search right - Part 9

I've been writing a series of posts about getting site search right based on my presentation at the Euro IA Summit in Amsterdam this year In the last part I started looking at some examples where search user experience goes wrong. In order to entice the masses away from Google, a site search needs to be on the top of its game, and avoid things like intrusive adverts, opening unnecessary new windows, and providing an inconsistent experience. Another sure...
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