Tag Archives: bing

Privacy and web search history

My last post, why do search engines store search history, looked at why search history is offered. This post examines the connection between privacy and search history.

Privacy definitions*

  • Right to be left alone
  • Limited access to the self
  • Secrecy
  • Control over personal information
  • Personhood
  • Intimacy

Since searches can be a personal experience having control over your search history may invade privacy. If you delete something from your search history is this permanently deleted from all your records? This is a grey area for privacy.

Privacy on a keyboard

Privacy written on keyboard keys. From g4ll4is

Sharing information

Allmer illustrated that privacy can be easily controlled by not sharing information and keeping it to yourself. Does a search history share your information with a search engine? Where else is this information stored? Is it matched to a personalised user profile?

Search history and cookies, for instance, collectively can build a lot of data, and thus breach privacy, because addresses and clicktrails can be monitored. We are a long way from finding out what information is stored and for what precise purpose. However, it is important to note that some entities are now standing up to large companies (for example Google and the European Union) which means that we are slowly making privacy progress.

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  1. Allmer, T. (2011) A critical contribution to theoretical foundations of privacy studies. Journal of Information, Communication Ethics in Society. 9(2) 83–101
  2. Frommkin, M. (2000) The death of privacy? Stanford Law Review. 52(5) pp. 1461–1543
  3. *Solove, D.J. (2002) Conceptualizing privacy. California Law Review. 90(4) pp. 1087–1155

Search engine results page (SERP) interaction

Once a query has been typed and matched to a search engines’ index results are presented on a SERP. What way do we interact with a SERP?

Organic vs paid search

Organic results are naturally ranked websites whereas paid search (PPC) bids instantly for specific keywords for sponsored link ranking. It is impossible to generalise what results we look at because several studies have found that our attention is evenly distributed for organic results whereas other studies suggest most of us look at the first three results. Click through rates, however, show that 85.7% of clicks occur on page one so being in the top ten of any SERP is important regardless of what position a website ranks.

One study, in 2005, found that the concept of sponsored links is not well known because only 38% know the difference between sponsored (paid search) and organic links. Our ability to see and distinguish SERP components differs enormously. This also means that user interaction with a SERP also varies.

One study found that the number of people who click on sponsored links was between 10% to 23% of all clicks. It is clear PPC is still an effective system.

Snippets on the SERP

Most web search engines actually use similar components to construct a result’s page. They usually include a: title tag, description (or page content), and an URL.

SERP for Gerald Murphy.

SERP for Gerald Murphy.

In recent years web search engines have blended SERPs mixing news and images, for example, with textual websites for informational, navigational and transactional queries. This is beneficial to every searcher because a range of suitable materials are returned, thus likely to be used, to fully investigate a query.

SERP interaction

  • There is a lot of debate about where we look. Some studies suggest the top four results whereas others say #1 to #10 are evenly distributed.
  • Approximately a third of one study did not know the difference between sponsored (PPC) and organic links. This suggests that depending upon the user PPC links could appear to be trustworthy and completely match long tailed search queries when in fact they only match bided keywords.
  • Over 80% of all clicks occur from position one to ten.

Are people satisfied when searching?

Search engines are highly popular and searchers give positive feedback on their use of them, for instance, feeling in control of their search and most find information on what they are looking for. This shows that web search engines are becoming better at ranking relevant results but also the design and user interface of a SERP allows for happy and content searchers.

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  1. Cutrell, E. & Guam, Z. (2007) What are you looking for? An eye-tracking study of information usage in web search. Proceedings CHI. pp. 407 — 416
  2. Downet, D. Dumais, S. Liebling, D. and Horvitz, E. (2008) Understanding the relationship between searchers’ queries and information goals. Proceeding CIKM. pp. 449 — 458
  3. Granka, L.A. Joachims, T. and Gay, G. (2004) Eye-tracking analysis of user behaviour in WWW search. Proceedings SIGIR. pp. 478 — 479.
  4. Fallows, D. (2005) Search engine users. Pew Research Center. [Online] [Accessed on 25th August 2013] http://is.gd/K3KB3o

Why do search engines give different results?

Different results for Bing and Google

Numerous factors explain why Bing gives different results than Google. Two of the main reasons are covered on this post.

Search engine specific bots and indexes
Bing and Google, two popular, crawler-based search engines have unique bots which ‘crawl’ and store keywords within their own index. Each index is therefore a search engine’s representation of how they see the web. So search engines “see” the web differently.
Unique algorithms place different weight on different things. Most search engines are different because they have unique bots and indexes which rank websites in their own way.
Bing powers Yahoo but their results are different. This is because each search engine uses different algorithms, ranking queries uniquely, so a search for “belfast” on Yahoo will be different from “belfast” using Bing.
Personalisation adapts a system to a specific computer. Calculations predict likes and dislikes to contextualise search results. So a political searcher who searches for “brown” are more likely to get results on Gordon Brown whereas a landscape artist who searches for “brown” are more likely to get information on art products and paint colours.
Although you might be using a global search engine, for example Google, your results are tailored to your geographic location. IP addresses play the largest role in doing this. Each IP address is similar to a house address. Search engines can find out where these IP addresses are located and personalise results based on this location. Results are therefore different for people who are in different countries.

Since personalised search can lead to relevant information, a feature of quality information, personalisation is not necessarily a negative feature.

SERP of different search engines.

SERP of different search engines. Source.

Search engines give different results because bots crawl and have different representations of the web. Search engine specific algorithms rank keywords differently so the same search is presented differently.

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  1. Ostrow, A. (2010) Bing Now Powers Yahoo Search. [Online] [Accessed on 18th August 2013]

How does a search engine personalise results?

Most popular search engines personalise, whereby past searches influence present and future, results. What are the main ways a search engine personalises results and why do they do this?

Personalisation: How and why?

Google decided to personalise search as a trail on 29th March 2004. So personalisation is not a new feature.

From an information retrieval viewpoint personalisation improves retrieval effectiveness by adjusting search results based on a searcher’s interests. These interests can be observed by mining short-term or long-term behaviours.

Short term
Search engine mines current search session.
Long term
Searches from many previous sessions are mined.

Personalisation ultimately occurs to everyone but it can be reduced by making smart use of technologies, for example, incognito mode or using a cookie removing facility.

VuGraph personalisation.

VuGraph personalisation.

Browsing & search history

Browsing history, search history and user’s explicitly declaring their interests to a search engine all help build interest profiles. Some studies do not take a broad overview of the various technologies. This means that smaller, more obscure, technologies are simply ignored, such as, cookies, for instance. It is possible for cookies to store keywords which can help search engines to personalise results.

Read more about other personalisation technologies.

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  1. Hines, M. (2004) Google takes searching personally. [Online] [Accessed on 13th August 2013]
  2. Shen, X. Tan, B. Zhai, C. (2005) Context-sensitive information retrieval using implicit feedback. SIGIR. pp. 43 — 50
  3. Shen, X. Tan, B. Zhai, C. (2006) Mining long-term search history to improve search accuracy. KDD. pp. 718 — 723
  4. Sontag, D. Collins-Thompson, K. Bennett, P.N. White, R.W. Dumais, S.T. and von Billerback, B. (2012) Probabilistic models for personalizing web search. WSDM. pp. 433 — 442
  5. White, R.W. Bennett, P.N. and Dumais, S.T. (2010) Predicting short-term interests using activity-based search context. CIKM. pp. 1009 — 1018

How do we search for web information?

Several eye tracking studies found how we search through keywords. Higher positioned results are also the only results likely to be reviewed by most users. Along with the design and user interface the position of results heavily influences what we click and do not click.

Ranking of results matters

Some eye tracking studies seem to find that searchers concentrate on the top results and, mostly, ignore lower ranked websites. So the position of your website / result on search engines, for example being in the top four position on Bing or Google, does matter because the top results are the only results likely to be reviewed by the searcher.

A photo of a person searching for information.

Person searching for information. Source.

Search engines find information

One study found that users of search engines were likely to use Yahoo!, Bing and Google first for medical information rather than searching on specialised search engines. General and popular search engines are worth concentrating on because your highly ranked website on Bing, Google and Yahoo! is more likely to get more visitors. But it is also worth noting that less popular search engines, in particular Bing, get higher conversation rates for PPC compared to Google. So search engines themselves heavily influence user interactions because the design and user interface is different for every search engine.

Evaluating results

Other eye tracking studies found that relevant results are read from top to bottom (i.e. position one followed by position two and three etc). If the top results were irrelevant searchers were likely to review more hits. Bad searches means bad results which results in the searcher reviewing more results until they find a relevant hit.

A good search experience goes hand-in-hand with an appropriate choice of keywords. So it is not just about getting your website to rank high but to also allow people to find your website for a range of keywords. It is also worth noting that eye tracking studies are not frequently employed because they are tedious, requiring extensive data, and they can be too narrow to generalise. However, eye tracking studies allow user behaviour to be better understood.

What way do we search for information?

We tend to focus on the top, usually the first four, results. If these results are irrelevant then we are likely to review more results. Ranked results means that we read top-down rather than bottom-up. Furthermore, choosing a website at a random position is unlikely to occur due to this user behaviour.

Posted by Gerald Murphy


  1. Bing. (no date) Bing Ads Drives Higher Conversion Rates and Lower CPAs for Agency Clients. [Online] [Accessed on 09th August 2013]
  2. Goldberg, J.H. Stimson, M.J. Lewenstein, M. Scott, N. and Wichansky, A.M. (2002) Eye Tracking in Web Search Tasks: Design Implications.
  3. Granka, L. Joachims, T. Gay, G. (2004) Eye-tracking analysis of user behaviour in WWW search. In Proceedings of the 27th Annual ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval. SIGIR ’04. ACM. New York: NY. pp. 478 — 479
  4. Guan, Z. and Cutrell, E. (2007) An eye tracking study of the effect of target rank of Web search. In CIII 2007, ACM. New York: NY. pp. 407 — 416
  5. Lorigo, L. et al. (2008) Eye tracking and online search: Lessons learned and challenges ahead. Journal of Americian Society of Information Science Technology. 59(7) pp. 1041 — 1052

Why is Google popular?

Google’s UK statistics

Google is a popular search engine in most places in the world, except countries in which a government censors internet usage or where there is poor internet penetration, but in the United Kingdom Google is by far the most dominate search engine because:

  • it has 82.9 per cent market share
  • it is the most popular search engine in the UK
  • Alexa (2013) states that it is the best website online
  • Google is more popular than Microsoft, eBay, BBC, Amazon and Wikipedia

These statistics alone show that Google is popular but why is Google a popular search engine?

Why is Google popular and successful?

Google’s business model helps explain its popularity and success because: of their growth in market value and revenue; they have increased the number of people clicking in search news; they are a piece of picture locating software and have increased the number of staff, for example, lawyers and lobbyists. So Google’s business model allows the company to run successfully which plays a large role in promoting and maintaining Google Search.

Working at Google allows employees to take advantage of a range of benefits, such as, getting access to medical staff, funding for classes/degrees which help you learn a subject and receiving travel insurance for both personal and professional travel arrangements. Most of Google’s success of maintaining and running their offices plays a large part of Google Searches’ success.

Correlation, marketing and choice

Google’s interface is simple and easy to use. It is highly unlikely that a searcher will not know how to search and examine Google results. To explore more of the important viewpoints you might want to read my slightly older post Is Bing better than Google? because this post looks at the different perspectives which explain why Google and Bing are popular search engines.

Will Google always be popular?

This is a very difficult question but most ‘Googlers’ like Google because they return to the same search engine even though there are over 40 free other search engines available. The user behaviour of Googlers, returning to Google’s search engine rather than using a rival, indicate that Google’s success will not change anytime soon because people’s opinions and habits are difficult to break away from. So it is possible to conclude that Google will remain popular for the next few years.

A case study of Instagram and Vine

Other digital enterprises, Instagram and Vine, have recently shown that users can change their use of a digital product very quickly. Knibbs’ (2013) work looked at the number of Instagram and Vine links on Twitter’s micro-blogging site to find that Vine links have overtook those of Instagram. We can see from this example that the ‘digital world’ does change very quickly. This can be applied to Google’s search engine because a smaller search engine can overtake Google anytime. So the question here is not will Google always remain popular? It should be: what is the best search engine for results and which search engine offers the best user experience?

Photo of Bing, Yahoo and Google logo. Source

What makes Google popular?

So the short answer is their simple interface, ease of use, effective marketing, business model and staff fostering. But it is important to note that “ex-Google employees” have recently been vocal about wider issues, for example corporation tax avoidance, which shows that wider issues can also affect Google’s success or lack of.

Posted by Gerald Murphy


  1. Alexa. (2013) Google.com. [Online] [Accessed on 25th March 2013] http://is.gd/kC7Nom
  2. comScore Ranks Top Web Sites in U.K. for September. [Online] http://is.gd/jYXkPs
  3. Google. Benefits. [Online] http://is.gd/pHmjGl
  4. Knibb, K. (2013) Here’s why you shouldn’t be surprised that people share more Vines than Instagrams on Twitter. http://is.gd/svAMju
  5. NetMarketShare. (2013) Desktop Search Engine Market Share. [Online] [Accessed on 10th April 2013] http://is.gd/W9dC8V
  6. Office of National Statistics (2012) Internet and web based content. [Online] [Accessed on 16th Feb 2013] http://is.gd/uGPjU8
  7. The Economist. (2007) Who’s afraid of Google? 384(8544) Sept edition. pp. 9 and 52 — 54

Do search engines collect a history of searches?

Search history, provided by a search engine and produced by the searcher, has become a well-used feature that is easy to store because it does not use a lot of memory (Leung et al 2012:3065); however, this memory is used to personalise the searcher’s services (Anonymous 2005:8). Google, Bing and Yahoo! all collect search histories alongside paid services.

Logo of Google's personalised search?

Logo of Google’s Personalised Search feature
From: http://www.omarkattan.com

A Google user, theoretically, has control over their search history because they may delete it from their user account. But search history may be stored by other technologies, for instance, cookies.

Does Google personalise searches?

In short, yes! Fox (2007:24) identified what technologies are used with Google’s personalised search; they include:

  • Previous click behaviour
  • Location
  • Search history
  • Web history
  • Use of other Google services
  • Language
  • Country restriction

All Google users, from 2009, automatically opt-in to Google’s Personalised Search allowing a users’ web history to be monitored (Horling and Kulick 2009: online).

So it is clear that there are several technologies which might influence one single search.


  1. Fox, V. (2007) ‘The anatomy of personalized Google results. Information Today. 24(11) pp. 24 — 24
  2. Horling, B. and Kulick, M. (2009) Personalized search for everyone. [Online] [Accessed on 11th Feb 2013] http://is.gd/BVwG11
  3. Leung, S.W. Yuen, S.Y. and Chow, C.K. (2012) ‘Parameter control system of evolutionary algorithm that is aided by the entire search history.’ Applied Soft Computing. 12(9) pp. 3063 — 3078