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 has launched a test version of its personalised search engine, part of its effort to tailor its search results to users' preferences.

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

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

The U.S. California-based 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 personalised 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 personalised 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 personalised services of rival search engine Yahoo. Google recently updated a domain name registration of the Web address "MyGoogle.com" 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 relevant information from its news pages and links back to its Froogle shopping site in its e-mails.

Analysts welcomed Google's latest effort at personalisation, pointing out that the search and e-mail alerts differ significantly from the customised 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 favoured a tight focus on providing search tools rather than other forms of customisable content, such as those found on My Yahoo.

Garcia said she would like to see Google increase the complexity of personalisation it offers. The company could encourage greater use of the system by adding more depth in customization, such as providing more localised 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 personalisation site, as it is still in test mode, but Fitzpatrick said it will continue its company-wide 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.