Imagine Bob Dylan asking to hear the thoughts of every audience member at Woodstock ‘69 and you’ll get a glimpse of what we’re inviting when we say, “Give us feedback.” With hundreds of millions of users, Google Search may have more customers than any other product on the planet. And, like any customers, these hundreds of millions of people need support. Perhaps not surprisingly, in 2011 we had nearly 9 million visits to our Search Help Forum. With an ever-changing product and a diverse user base, keeping our ears attuned to what people are saying is a very interesting challenge, and one we’ve taken seriously.

Of course, there’s more to providing support than just listening. It involves in-person and online interaction, targeted education and online help resources, and continuous product refinements based on feedback. Supporting our users means engaging with them and taking action. To do this we combine two of Google’s biggest strengths: building for scalability and continuous product refinement.

Providing scalable support
When it comes to providing support for search, working at scale is our bread and butter. We reach nearly 320,000 users per day through our Help Center, which is available in over 40 languages. It’s full of articles and videos to explain search features and answer users’ most frequently asked questions. We also continually refine old content and publish new content so that when you click on “Search help”, the information you read is up-to-date. Since Google Help Centers, as a unit, rank 12th on the list of most visited Google properties, quality and relevance is of the utmost importance. We also try to surface help content in our products as well. For example, you’ll often find “Learn more” links on the results page when we launch a new feature or show you an alert message. We also recently linked to an educational video about SafeSearch from the Google Images homepage so that users can easily learn how to strictly filter their search results.

There’s also a wealth of knowledge in our user base that, when shared, can be a very powerful resource. In our Help Forum, our search-savvy superusers called “Top Contributors” share tips and best practices with the community every day. We also have over 30 Google product managers, engineers, and community managers who pop in to help answer questions, monitor launch feedback, and look for issues and feature requests. Just this year, Googlers have posted over 3,500 times and Top Contributors over 9,000 times. In partnership with our Search Education Evangelism team, we also venture into the classroom in order to teach students, librarians, and teachers how to get the most out of Google Search. By equipping educators with best practices for searching, we can scalably reach the next generation of Internet users.

We work at scale because, frankly, we have to. Even if every Google employee worked full-time answering user questions, we still couldn’t talk with even a small percentage of our users or website owners. Since hundreds of millions of people use Google, and there are more than 200 million websites online, the only way for us to support our user base is through scalable solutions like videos, blogs, documentation, forums, and other means.

Translating feedback into action
You have many options for sharing feedback with us. Some reports come through our various contact forms in the Help Center and others via the forum or the Give us feedback link on the bottom of the results page. You can also turn to social media to seek help on a particular feature. Regardless of how you share feedback, we try to stay abreast of the issues you face. When we do find a bug, we work to fix it as soon as possible. Does that mean that we page engineers at 3:00am to immediately fix bugs? Sometimes, yes! More often, though, we collaborate with our users and our product managers and engineers by gathering information on issues. Often, an engineer or product manager will respond to a user directly in our forum in order to better understand the situation or to announce that the bug has been fixed.

To help keep our team accountable for addressing user feedback, we create a quarterly list of our top user issues and work to address them with folks from all levels in the company. The search team is not afraid of tackling tough problems, but it can take some time to come to agreement on an approach and implement it. This doesn’t mean that we fix every problem, as many of you know. We recognize that there is a lot of room for improvement whether in our rankings, our UI, or by fixing minor bugs. The good news is that we’re quickly aware when there are serious issues and we keep working hard to address them.

While every change we make is to a some extent motivated by user feedback and testing, here are a few examples of changes that were largely inspired by the feedback we've seen in our help forums and across the web:

  • Verbatim search tool: For all of you who told us that you wanted remove synonyms, spelling refinements, and personalization from your results, we added this new tool to the left panel of the results page.
  • Google Security Center: In response to many of you reporting erroneous redirects when clicking on a result, we launched an entirely new security center including educational content about malware.
  • Results per page preference: As a result of your feedback following the launch of Google Instant, we greyed out the results per page preference when you have Instant enabled.
  • Ability to hide sites: Because you requested to permanently exclude certain results from your results pages, we made it possible for you to block a particular site from appearing.

Support isn’t just about issue resolution or education. It’s about relationships and showing the human side of the knowledge engine that our users have come to love. We want you to tell us how we can improve your personal Google experience because, ultimately, we want to delight you. It’s important to know that by sharing your thoughts, you’re not just exercising free speech, you’re helping to shape the future of search.