March 29, 2004 1:30 PM PST

Google takes searching personally

As the search wars intensify, Google hopes that making a personal connection with its visitors will give it an edge.

The company launched a test version of its personalized search engine on Monday, part of its effort to tailor its search results to users' preferences. Google also plans to e-mail registered users of personalized search with the results of their queries.

The Mountain View, Calif., company introduced testing tools for its Personalized Web Search and Web Alerts on Google Labs, its public developmental playground.

Google claims that the forthcoming search option will let users more quickly access preferred results. The e-mail alert is meant to complement the service by tracking specific topics and sending search results on a weekly or daily basis, depending on a user's request.

Google representatives identified personalized search as an important step forward in the company's overall strategy of drawing itself closer to site visitors.

"Personalization and Web alerts are all examples of how we're continuing to innovate and provide value to users," said Jen Fitzpatrick, an engineering director at Google.

This is the company's latest personalized service, meant to draw in people by helping them fine-tune their searches. The Web search giant previously unveiled Google Local, which aims to provide geography-specific search results, and also introduced its desktop toolbar search service.

The company may also try to become more portal-like, with a "my" territory that competes with the personalized services of rival search engine Yahoo. Google recently updated a domain name registration of the Web address "" with Network Solutions.

Google's Personalized Web Search uses a series of check boxes to help users tailor their searches. Surfers can request a search on "bass" and then specify "fish" so that they do not get results related to music, for example.

Google plans to include in its e-mails relevant information from its news pages and links back to its Froogle shopping site.

Analysts welcomed Google's latest effort at personalization, pointing out that the search and e-mail alerts differ significantly from the customized pages rival My Yahoo offers. Denise Garcia, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner, called the beta "quintessential Google," observing that the company has always favored a tight focus on providing search tools rather than other forms of customizable content, such as those found on My Yahoo.

Garcia said she would like to see Google increase the complexity of personalization it offers. The company could encourage greater use of the system by adding more depth in customization, such as providing more localized options and a larger range of buttons for finding content aimed at children and teenagers, she said. The system currently lets people highlight what state they're most interested in; by taking that down to the city or town level, Google could have even brighter prospects, according to Garcia.

"I could see people using this as an alternative to existing yellow pages and directory listings, if Google pushes it to the metro level," Garcia said. "There's also a huge opportunity to attract more local advertisers when that happens, and as much as this is a tool that caters to end users, I think it plays very nicely into that equation."

Google has yet to place ads on the personalization site, as it is still in test mode, but Fitzpatrick said it will continue its companywide effort to offer greater levels of relevancy to advertisers. The company has not given a launch date for a final version of the new tools.


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New alerts copy of "Google Alert"?
Google's new Web Alerts seem to be a scaled-down attempt at copying the popular Google Alert ( service that is based on Google's API. The Google Alert service has been around for over a year and in general offers more options and deeper searches.

I wonder if this is a sign of things to come - Google creating services similar to it's own API developers.
Posted by mitchharper (2 comments )
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Re: Google Alert
Perhaps, but that's their prerogative. Also, the Google Alert technology developed by Indigo Systems is not entirely original. Google could've bought Indigo Systems, but it's unlikely they wanted to pay several million dollars when they could just modify the Google News Alerts that has been around for nearly a year.

Posted by dmehus (30 comments )
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This could be a big step for <a href="">local search</a> and <a href="">online reputation</a>. If some one searches for restaurants in their vicinity, and Google gives a list and on one of the listings it shows that John Doe in your circle, said they have horrible service and bad soup, you are probably will not choose that restaurant.
This update increases the stakes for companies to monitor and manage their <a href="">online reputation</a>.
Posted by Chatmeter (1 comment )
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