“Do what I mean, not what I say!” [Part 1 of 2]

Yes, that’s an odd title, let me explain.  

We’ve been working on returning the very best search results for your intent, not just for the particular search terms that you happen to have chosen as a vehicle to transmit that intent.  There’s an important difference there and it’s been our focus for quite some time.

For example, let’s suppose that you’ve decided to move to the state of Arizona.  You’d like to double check that how hot it gets there so you search for hottest temperature in the state of az.  In this case, the intent of the query was different than the search terms entered: it would be unfortunate if a particularly good result was excluded from the results simply because it contained the term Arizona instead of the abbreviation AZ.

In the new release of Live Search we’ve made a number of improvements in this area of more deeply understanding user intent.

AutoSpell Correction

The first example of this is our new AutoSpell feature.

If we are absolutely, completely, totally, “no doubt about it” confident you misspelled one of your search terms, we automatically deliver a page that includes spell-corrected results, rather than a page of misspelled results accompanied by a “Did you mean _______?” link at the top.

For example, there’s this pizza place near Microsoft called Pagliacci Pizza that is fantastic.  The problem is that I can never remember the correct spelling of the place.  My misspelled attempts are usually something along the lines of Pagliaci Pizza, Pagliaccis Pizza, or Paggliacci Pizza

AutoSpell Correction

With AutoSpell correction I get the correct result the first time, regardless of the misspelling.  Instead of being two clicks away from pizza, I’m just one.  Being two clicks away just keeps people hungry, rather than satisfying their intent!

In the (hopefully) rare case that you ever see a mistaken correction in our AutoSpell feature, we provide a recourse link at the top of the page to enforce your original spelling.


Another improvement in the “Do what I mean, not what I say” category is stemming.  Stemming means matching on the “stem” (or root) of the word rather than the exact word.

For example, users told us that the search half price book Redmond returned horrible results.  Searching for half price books Redmond produced much better results.   In our new release of Live Search, searches for half price book Redmond automatically include results with books in them as well.

Our team knew that tackling stemming would give us the improvements we needed for searches like these.  But we had to be careful, because you can’t just stem all the time-you have to be smart about it.  An example of this is the word cable.  When you search for “cable,” you could be looking for information on cable TV providers.  When you search for “cables”, you could be looking for power, telephone, or network cables. 

We’re really happy with the improvements that stemming has made in Live Search.  Like everything else in the product, we will continue to tune and tweak things to give our users the best experience.

These are just the first two of several areas we tackled in the area of “Do what I mean, not what I say.”  We’ll be back soon to post about a few other items we released in this area.  Thanks and please let us know what you think!

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