Tag Archives: personalisation

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.

Posted by


  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

Simply put: What is a search engine?

A search engine is a utility program used to locate information on the web. Search engines, however, give different results. An post later this week will clarify/explain why search engines give different results.

You do not search the web using a search engine

A search engine finds information by using a self-created bot: Bots are unique to every search engine. Bots create an inverted index with all the information they find. Thus, you search the bot’s representation of the web, not the actual web. This explains why you cannot carry out a lot of real time search.

  • Bots need to read a blog first (crawl it)
  • Store its content by identifying keywords (creating an inverted index)
  • which can be searched by the searcher (thus searching the bots representation of the web)

Search engine factors when searching

IP addresses determine locational searches. Cookies, internet browsers and user accounts, on the other hand, lead to personalisation of results on the web. This means that you are not searching the bot’s representation of the web, you are searching a smaller section that the search engine has created for you, your likes, interests and past searches.

A ‘problem’ with search

A search engine is a utility program to help X find information on Y (Machill 2003: 52). But is search engine technology this clear cut? Is it easy to find information on Y, all the time?

Search engines are not clear (most of the time)

Cookies, for example, are clearly defined but their exact use is not. Search engines use cookies; however, they do not give details on what a cookie (or several cookies) might collect. So, for X to find information on Y, X needs to be aware that cookie technology exists because they might lead to personalisation, causing X to find information on Z.

Are there any tools for cookies and their control?

Cookie Crusher, Cookie Pal and Buzof are effective anti-cookie tools (Warrington 2003: 270).

If you do not want to download a program to remove cookies, you can always try searching in private mode. This does not remove cookies, however it limits the number of new cookies going on your computer. Sometimes the old fashioned methods work best.

Do you use an anti-cookie tool? If so, what is it called?


  • Machill, M. Neuberger, C. and Schinder, F. (2003) Transparency on the Net: functions and deficiencies of Internet search engines. Info. 5(1) pp. 52 – 74
  • Warrington, T. (2003) The E-Privacy Imperative: Protect your customers’ internet privacy and ensure your company’s survival in the electronic age. Journal of consumer marketing. 20(3) pp. 269 – 271

A different take on the internet

The Internet refers to the physical structure (cables, nodes etc) of how we can connect to one another online. Whereas the Web is how we interact and communicate with the Internet (e.g. e-mail, or an internet browser).

Who controls the Internet?

As you already know, I am completing a dissertation on search engines. One of the latest readings is from Goldsmith, J., Wu, T. (2006) ‘Who controls the internet?’ Oxford University Press: New York.

I thought these points were interesting

information overload easily occurs on the online world (p. 52)
This is because anyone can publish information online. WordPress is a good example of this because it shows that anyone can publish a blog, even without knowledge on a given subject.

Does this mean that their is a lot of rubbish online? Maybe!
The Internet is a personalised medium
Goldsmith and Wu (2006) use a good example of Amazon.co.uk as an example of personalisation because most visitors are greeted by name on their homepage.
Does personalisation make the Internet a better place? Or, does it allow us to make our way through all the rubbish, clearing a path for you online?