Some selected excerpts:
At Google, relevance is a religion. The Golden Triangle is sacred. Nothing can appear here if it's not, in Google's judgment, absolutely relevant to the user.I think the history of MSN and Yahoo as portals may be part of the explanation here.
Both Yahoo and Microsoft said similar things, but in each case, the importance of relevance was always counterbalanced with other factors. At Google, relevance is the only thing that mattered.
The urge to monetize is winning the battle at Yahoo. Yahoo was by far the most aggressive both in terms of how often top sponsored ads were shown, and how much [space] was devoted to them ... Relevance, at least in terms of the user's expectation, was pushed down the page.
The religion that is relevance at Google is not found to the same extent at Microsoft ... Relevance does not define the core purpose of Microsoft ... Microsoft approaches the user experience as one of a number of best practices ... It's not that relevance isn't important at Microsoft. It's just that it's treated more as a business objective than a sacred cow.
I believe its Google's obsession with relevance that makes the difference. Relevance drives a better user experience, which drives market share, which drives monetization. Google seems to have the best understanding of this basic cause-and-effect relationship in the search marketing ecosystem.
Google has never had a portal. Google has always focused on getting people the information they need quickly and then sending them off to other sites to do whatever they need to get done.
Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo have large websites with a lot of content. They traditionally have wanted to capture people on their properties and keep them there. Because of this history, I suspect Microsoft and Yahoo may still be conflicted about whether their goal in search is helping people get what they need quickly or capturing audiences for their sites.
Gord's thoughts on where Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft may be going with search are also interesting:
Google is heading the push towards greater personalization of search results. It's an essential next step to reach the ultimate objective, which is to give their user exactly what they're looking for at any given time.Google is focused on using better algorithms, big data, and personalization to improve relevance. Yahoo is focused on social search, which is poorly defined but seems to mean building tools to help humans help humans find what they need. Microsoft is scattered, but probably will stumble toward personalization at some point. All sounds about right.
Expect Yahoo to start exploring ways to thread ... individual user experiences together with search as the common element. They'll look for ways in which Yahoo's community can help enhance the search experience and provide social context to it. How this will be accomplished as a little cloudy at this point.
Microsoft's approach to the future of search seems to be the most fragmented of all the three major players .... [but] I would expect Microsoft to start using the vast amount of data that's available to them in the form of click stream behavior across all their properties, and begin to use this not only as an advertising targeting opportunity, but also to help improve the relevance of search results. From this, further personalization is the logical next step.
For more on these topics, see also some of my earlier posts, "Google dominates, MSN Search sinks", "Google expands personalization" and "Social software is too much work".
Update: There is a fun debate on search personalization going on in the comments for this post. Don't miss it.