Adapting Search to You

Ambiguity is a tough problem for a search engine.

You generally search with a clear intent in mind but, without context, the phrase you enter may have a very different meaning to someone else. For example, if you were to type “CSI” odds are you’re interested in the TV show. But, if you live in Twin Falls, you may, instead, be looking for the College of Southern Idaho. When we think about ambiguity at Bing, understanding what your query represents (primetime entertainment or a college in Idaho) is only one step. You may be interested in CSI (the show) but what you’re specifically interested in is this season’s cast, or perhaps you want to catch up on a missing episode. The intent is ambiguous here as well. In fact, over half of the queries issued on search engines are ambiguous to some degree.

For many searches, there may be “hidden context” which would improve our understanding of what you’re trying to do. Whether it’s picking which movie to see or figuring out which bus to take, a more personalized search experience can help you make decisions faster. Earlier this year, we started to take on the challenges of personalized search by looking at two key scenarios – the first was tailoring results based on your physical location, and the second was designed to “re-find” websites you had previously visited. Today, we’re taking another step forward with the roll-out of a new feature: Adaptive Search.

How does it work?

Every time you search on Bing, the information provided helps Bing understand what you’re trying to do. The more you search, the more Bing can learn – and use that information to adapt the experience so you can spend less time searching and accomplish what you set out to do.

As an example, let’s say you’re in the process of planning a vacation – you might decide to search for “Australia”. In this case, you’re most likely to be looking for websites specifically about the country Australia, or information about travel. You can see an example of the search “Australia”, for someone who is planning a vacation, below:

Now suppose, instead, you’re a movie-buff and are trying to decide on a movie to rent for the evening. With this context, the smart technology powering this feature will infer that you’re probably looking for the movie “Australia”, and begin to adapt the search page to your intent by showings results relevant to the movie Australia higher up on the page than they were previously:

The differences are generally quite subtle, but the more confidence we have about what your intent is, the more personalized the results will become. We certainly don’t want to make any assumptions that prevent you from seeing a diverse set of results and lock you into a “filter bubble”, so the results that correspond to differing intents (e.g. travel to Australia) will still be available to you on the page.

Check out the following video to learn more about Adaptive Search:



As we continue to develop personalized search experiences, we remain focused on maintaining an industry-leading privacy stance (the details are available here). As always, if you would prefer that results are not customized based on your past search activity, you can “Clear” and “Turn off” search history at any time.

We hope you like these new improvements. Adaptive Search will be rolling out in the US over the next few days, check it out and let us know what you think.

– Aidan Crook, Bing Search