Google's Latest Experiment: Preferred Sites
Google has just launched a new feature, designed to help you tailor your searches even more, "so that your search results match your unique tastes and needs," with the Preferred Sites feature. The Preferred Sites feature allows you to pre-select specific sites that you tend to rely on for search results, and then these sites will always be used when you conduct searches. For instance, if you rely on HotHardware.com as one of your primary sources of tech information, whenever you conduct a Google search using the Preferred Sites feature, you can ensure that relevant results from HotHardware.com will always be included in your search results. The Preferred Sites feature does not limit your search results to just those sites you add, it still includes the general Google search results as well. Additionally, even though the specific sites you select will be included in searches, if there are no relevant results from those sites, they won't be included in your search results. This can be a very powerful feature, for instance, if you want to ensure that results from your local newspaper or other local news sources are always included when you conduct news-related searches.
The Preferred Sites feature is currently just an experiment and available only to a limited number of Google users. If you are one of the few who have been selected to test it, you can access the Preferred Sites feature settings on your Google preferences page--obviously you need to be logged into Google to use the feature. You can manually add any site you want to be included with your searches. Additionally, Google suggests "some frequently-visited sites" to choose from, which it culls from your search history.
In the Google Blog entry that announced the Preferred Sites feature, the blog entry's author, Alex Chitu, offers a couple of examples of how the feature works. Chitu had previously added GSMArena.com as one of his Preferred Sites, and conducted a search for "Nokia 6080." While GSMArena.com was included in his search results, there weren't any significant ranking changes in the overall search results--albeit a "My preferred site" tag is added to the results whenever a result from one of your Preferred Sites is included. Chitu doesn't go into detail, but the implication is that in this instance, results from GSMArena.com would have been included high up in the rankings whether it was a Preferred Site or not.
In his second example, Chitu searched for the movie "How to Lose Friends and Alienate people." He added both imdb.com and NYTimes.com to his Preferred Sites. While the imdb.com result would have come up first in the search regardless, the NYTimes.com results ordinarily wouldn't have come up even in the first 30 results. However, because NYTimes.com was listed in his Preferred Sites, the rankings of this search were significantly changed, as results from NYTimes.com appeared as the number two and three ranked results.
As Preferred Sites is an experimental feature, there is no word on when or even if it will be rolled out to all Google users. Without using it (unfortunately, we were not selected to tests it), it's difficult to gauge how useful the Preferred Sites feature is. At face value it certainly seems to a be a useful feature to those people who want to be sure to include several specific sites in their search results. Note that you already can search a single site or domain using the Google Advanced Search operator, "site" (for instance, conducting the search, "google site:hothardware.com" will limit the search of the word "google" to only those instances where it appears in pages within the hothardware.com domain).