An effective email search engine can facilitate users’ search tasks and improve their communication efficiency. Users could have varied preferences on various ranking signals of an email such as relevance and recency based on their tasks at hand and even their jobs. Thus a uniform matching pattern is not optimal for all users. Instead, an effective email ranker should conduct personalized ranking by taking users’ characteristics into account. Existing studies have explored user characteristics from various angles to make email search results personalized. However, little attention has been given to users’ search history for characterizing users. Although users’ historical behaviors have been shown to be beneficial as context in Web search, their effect in email search has not been studied and remains unknown. Given these observations, we propose to leverage user search history as query context to characterize users and build a context- aware ranking model for email search. In contrast to previous context-dependent ranking techniques that are based on raw texts, we use ranking features in the search history. This frees us from potential privacy leakage while giving a better generalization power to unseen users. Accordingly, we propose a context-dependent neural ranking model (CNRM) that encodes the ranking features in users’ search history as query context and show that it can significantly outperform the baseline neural model without using the context. We also investigate the benefit of the query context vectors obtained from CNRM on the state-of-the-art learning-to-rank model LambdaMart by clustering the vectors and incorporating the cluster information. Experimental results show that significantly better results can be achieved on LambdaMart as well, indicating that the query clusters can characterize different users and effectively turn the ranking model personalized.

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