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Google search could benefit from Bing’s handy new follow-up questions feature

Bing, aka the search engine you probably don’t use and have never had any real intention of switching to, has just got a handy new feature.

In cases where the search query is vague, such as “20th anniversary gifts”, the search engine will present you with follow-up questions in order to get a clearer idea of what it is that you’re looking for (Search Engine Roundtable via OnMSFT).

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In this particular instance, something along the lines of “Who are you shopping for?”

We’ve all managed to bamboozle Google search (or Bing) at some point, and had to re-consider our choice of search keywords. How handy would an automatic follow-up question have been?

The blurry tweeted screenshot below from Alexander Bondarenko shows off a few other examples, though you might have to do some serious squinting to make out what the text says:

As pointed out by SEO expert Dawn Anderson, the functionality was described in this research paper.

“Search queries are often short, and the underlying user intent may be ambiguous. This makes it challenging for search engines to predict possible intents, only one of which may pertain to the current user,” the introduction to the paper reads.

“To address this issue, search engines often diversify the result list and present documents relevant to multiple intents of the query. An alternative approach is to ask the user a question to clarify her information need. Asking clarifying questions is particularly important for scenarios with ‘limited bandwidth’ interfaces, such as voice-only and small-screen devices.

“In addition, our user studies and large-scale online experiment show that asking clarifying questions is also useful in web search.”

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Is it enough to make you switch from Google to Bing? Possibly not, but Google’s search engine could well benefit from something similar.

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