Thursday, June 25th was a big news day: details about Governor Mark Sanford’s confession on Wednesday about his liaison in Argentina continued to break, we learned of Farah Fawcett’s death, and then later TMZ broke the news of Michael Jackson’s death. By most reports, Bing did not deliver the best experience for our customers soon after TMZ posted the news on their blog. As Search Engine Journal pointed out, we had the story but it was hidden at the bottom of the main page and even deeper in our xRank result.
We know that customers are turning to search when a big story breaks: generally we get more feedback and see more engagement from consumers for bigger news stories, so we pay attention to what we can learn from these events. In the case of Michael Jackson’s death there was a dramatic rise on Thursday for queries on his name and for details about his death, as well as spikes for the source credited with breaking the story (TMZ.com), his career, and his most famous move (the Moonwalk). The following day strong interest continued and there were new spikes in query volume for names of his friends and family members and for his videos, images, and songs.
Interestingly, on Sunday, the queries for his friends and family reached almost the same volume as his name driven by interest in Lisa Marie Presley’s MySpace post about her thoughts on his death. By the way, the most searched for song – by a country mile as my dad used to day – was Thriller.
While we do want to respond to big events appropriately, our general rule is not to interfere with the normal algorithmic operation and to use what we learn to improve future releases. The only exception is for major news events where we see unusual activity and the results are clearly not being ranked in a relevant way. In these cases, we can respond more quickly to how we perform the ranking. This was the case when Michael Jackson died, and we quickly rolled out what we call a “news go big” experience to make sure we were providing appropriate coverage for this significant and sad event.
So what did we learn and what will we do? Our data tell us that when people do queries on entertainers, they are most often interested in seeing images. However in the case of breaking news such as this, we will focus on ensuring that the whole experience quickly accommodates the surge in customers’ interest. We will also think about what people will be searching for in the days following the news and be sure we have the right content and algorithms to help people find this related information. Based on customers’ feedback, it seems delivering the right experience as the story is breaking is the area where we need to improve the most, so we’re on it! We will keep making adjustments and improvements to our algorithms to get it right when big stories break. We appreciate all your feedback, as always.
Jacquelyn Krones, Senior Product Planner, Bing News