A Personalized Search Using Advanced Search Operators

Search engines often provide an “advanced search” page, where a searcher can define search results they receive in many ways, beyond the simpler keyword search found on the front page search at those search engines.

For example, Yahoo’s advanced web page search lets searchers select a combination of different search limitations, such as:

  1. Different relationships between keywords in a search (e.g., “all of these words”, “the exact phrase”, “any of these words”, and “none of these words”),
  2. A time limitation on when the web page was last updated,
  3. A limit on what top-level domain names to search,
  4. A limit based on available legal rights,
  5. A file format limitation
  6. Country and language limitations.

If someone uses advanced search, they can significantly narrow the number of search results they receive, perhaps making it easier to find what they are looking for. But, most people don’t use the advanced search interface and its many ways of limiting search results.

A personalized search method described in a Yahoo patent application published last week collects information about a searcher’s interests from their search history, their browsing history, and their interests listed in profiles from places like MySpace and other social networks.

It can use that information to limit the number of search results received for a query by possibly adding additional search query terms or using some of the other limitations available in the advanced search options.

Personalized Search
Invented by Harshal D. Dedhia
Assigned to Yahoo
US Patent Application 20080109422
Published May 8, 2008
Filed: November 2, 2006

This personalized search uses information previously collected about a searcher’s interests, and might be useful in narrowing down the scope of results returned to a searcher in response to a query.

This information can be collected through something like a toolbar or a browser helper program.

One way that the personalized search might work is to add one or more search terms to a searcher’s query, if the searcher’s known prior interests are relevant to thequery. It could also perform an advanced search, using a searcher’s known interests, some of Yahoo’s advanced search parameters and the searcher’s original query terms.

For example, if the client has performed numerous searches for real estate in the San Francisco Bay area, the search system may select San Francisco Bay as a search parameter or search term automatically for future searches of the index for real estate.

While that could happen automatically, it’s also possible that a searcher might be prompted to see less results in certain instances.

In yet another embodiment, the client may be prompted for which results set to transmit and the prompt may include information about the limited search operation 110 or information providing a high-level comparison of the results set (e.g., “The full results of the search include over 1 billion pages, would you like to see the results of your search limited to the San Francisco Bay area?”, or “The full result set of your search `Iraq` and `war` is very large, would you like to limit this search to today’s news from major news sites?”).

The selection may then be made based on the client’s response to the prompt.

Where a Searcher’s Interest Information is Gathered

Some of a searcher’s interests may be gathered from a source unrelated to the search engine, such as a community web site that the search engine has access to. such as MySpace, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and social networking sites.

Other interest information might be passively collected through the search engine, and such things as a record of previous search requests.

Some information might be actively collected, such as geographic location and demographic information.

Relevance Analysis Between Searcher’s Interest and Searcher’s Query

The search term used by a searcher might be considered along with the searcher’s interest information, to see if there is some existing relationship between them, based upon relevance algorithms.

Search results from the original query, and results from limited searches from terms generated from the searcher’s interest information might be compared to determine how relevant they are to each other.

If a search query and searcher information fall within a subject category, e.g., a real estate query, a music query, local geographic query, a product query, a news query, etc. the search might be limited to certain parameters, such as limiting a search to a “news” category.

Conclusion

This patent application provides a pretty high level view of how personalized search might work at Yahoo. What is interesting about it is how it can incorporate some of the advanced search options into how it functions.

Another interesting aspect of Yahoo’s approach is how it might use profile information from ecommerce sites and social network sites to learn about a searcher’s interests.

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9 thoughts on “A Personalized Search Using Advanced Search Operators”

  1. To be totally honest I don’t use the advanced search area as much as I want. It is so easy to just put some keywords/phrases in the search bar and get some quick results. I do see the benefit of using advanced search though and would love a search engine that had personalized search that knew my interests.

    Thanks for the post Bill!

  2. hi, firstly like garrett i dont really use an advanced serach and personally speaking would not really like a search engine returning results havnig read my profile on social networking sites… something scary there i think.

  3. Hi Garrett,

    Thank you. I like my search bar, too. It’s pretty convenient, when you’re on a page, and you decide to look something up, to just type into the search box instead of navigating to the search engine, and then the advanced search page. Have to wonder why there isn’t a button on the Google toolbar to get you directly to the advanced search page. :(

    Personally, I’m a little fearful of a search engine that thinks it knows my interests better than I do, based upon past searching history. I’m afraid that it will try to give me results that miss what I really want to see…

    Hi DazzleCat,

    Thank you. I’m not sure that I like the idea of Yahoo, or any other search engine, trying to guess what I might be interested in based upon my profiles at social network sites either…

  4. I dont actually use the advanced search myself.

    my searches are very narrow and if i dont get it in the first seach query, i refine it and use a “longer keyword”.

    maybe “novice” users will be using it. but those who are familiar with search, will be “refining” their search instead of the advanced search (i believe)

  5. “Personally, I’m a little fearful of a search engine that thinks it knows my interests better than I do, based upon past searching history.”

    Amen to that, especially if Yahoo is handling it. I agree with Praveen, I think more people refine their results with a long tail search more than anything else. I have a feeling Yahoo’s time would be better spent refining the long tail results versus working on some AI search results.

  6. Good explanation about the advanced search results. Well wrote about that most the people are not willing to do advanced search. I agree on u upon this term.

  7. Hi Praveen,

    I don’t use the advanced search operators too often myself, but sometimes they come in useful, like when you are doing research, and only want to see results from .edu sites.

    I’m not sure that novices use the advanced search much either. Query refines may seem like a good way to go, but if you are searching for something that you don’t know much about, it can be frustrating trying to refine your searches in a meaningful manner.

    Hi Mike,

    I think there may be a tie-in between some of the advanced AI stuff that Yahoo is attempting, and the ability to make the results of long tail searches more helpful and relevant.

    Hi Ben,

    I do find some of the visual mobile search applications pretty interesting, and it makes sense to build upon such a search when so many phones have cameras attached to them.

    I think that in the case of Yahoo and the other major search engines, they have such a large amount of data about how people use search engines and browse the web, that they are exploring ways to make that data more helpful with what they do. I’m not sure if seemlessly incorporating advanced search operators into a search based upon past searching and browsing history is a step in the right direction, but it’s interesting in seeing how they might do that shown in a document directly from the search engine.

    Hi Boris,

    Thanks!

    Hi Chris,

    I remember the days of Altavista, and how the best results for a search there almost always came out of using the advanced search operators. I have to say that I use advanced search a lot less these days, too.

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