Irrelevant relevance

Search results showing a "relevance" rating for each result
Source: Translink (

The “relevance” score is thankfully disappearing from most search results. It no longer appears on the Translink site – the screenshot is from 2008.

Occasionally in usability testing I’ve had people make postiive comments about relevance scores, but investigagion reveals that’s what’s really good is excluding irrelevant results.

For specialised applications, relevance scores may be useful, but most people will infer relevance from position – which is why organisations expend so much time and money on search engine optimisation (SEO).

The example shown is particularly egregious because there are in fact two conflicting relevance rating systems. The one most people would probably use is the order (with the first result being assumed to be the most relevant). If you look at the ratings, however, you’ll notice that the entry with the highest relevance score is the second in the list (with 18, as opposed to 22 for the first).