A local search engine works by attempting to return relevant web pages associated with a specific geographical region or location. When the search engines index web pages, it can be helpful to attempt to automatically associate thoses pages, or sections of them with specific places or regions.
Ideally, for example, a web page about a restaurant in New York City should be associated with New York City. This connection can be easier to create if there is clearly a postal address or other geographical information on the page associated with that location and restuarant. But sometimes, a page will only contain a partial address or information that makes it difficult to to draw that connection between page and place.
Another issue that comes up in local search is which geographical region should the search engine show results from when there may be more than one location or region with the same name, or a similar name. For instance, If I want to order a pizza from one of the local pizzerias, I might search for Pizza Newark, but I probably won’t be happy with the Google local results which show Newark, New Jersey, pizza places, instead of Newark, Delaware.
Yes, I can add a zip code, or state name, and that will solve the problem. But I want to know why the local search chooses New Jersey. Is Newark New Jersey, the most important Newark in the world, or is there some other reason?
When I search for Pizza in New York in Google Local, I’m told that there are about 79,400 results. The top result I see is Lombardi’s Pizza, which is “0.8 mi NE” of the green arrow on the map that points to New York.
Exactly what is that green arrow pointing to, and why does Lombardi’s Pizza show up number one?
To rephrase that question, how does a site to become the “authority” for a region, for a business type, rather than an authority for a specific location and business name?
In Authority Documents for Google’s Local Search, I wrote about a patent application that described how a specific site would show up first when searching for a specific business name and location. The author of that patent filing, Daniel Egnor, was the named inventor on a number of others on local search that came out the same week. This post is about one of those other ones, which is the only one I can recall from Google that talks about identifying specific regions, and tying them to queries about business types:
Indexing documents according to geographical relevance
US Patent Application 20060149774
Living in a college town, it’s not uncommon to see bulletin boards with activities, opportunities, and advertisements listed all over them. There’s a certain artistic aspect to them when taken in from a short distance.
One of my favorite music stores has a board like that on the side of their building. I was reminded of that when a friend sent me a link to a page that he’s building called The Flyer Wall. There’s an aspect to it of the million dollar homepage, but one main difference is that the designer behind the page is an excellent graphic artist, and he’s creating the images behind the flyers’ posted on the wall. It’s still in its infancy, but I like what he’s done.
Was the million dollar homepage a one time phenomenon? Will people be attracted to a site like this, designed by a skilled graphic artist? I’m not sure, but we will probably see more like it in the months to come.
Imagine taking the concept off the web, and onto a building – ‘Million Dollar Homepage’ Concept Hits Outdoor Market
Some very good news from Reuters (via John Blossoms’s Content Blogger), Google is testing more accessible Web search for the visually impaired.
At Google Labs, you can now find Google’s Accessible Web Search for the Visually Challenged . It doesn’t look that different from the regular Google Interface, but the difference appears to happen behind the scenes. According the Accessible Search FAQ, it goes beyond finding the most relevant results by finding the most accessible pages from the normal web search result set.
I tried a few searches, and they confirmed that rankings do change, and sometimes significantly, for those searches. I’m seeing sites that were constructed with accessibility as a major goal move up considerably in rankings.
The FAQ tells us that it looks at HTML markup, and
A question from a recent visitor asked about how to get a government web site to link to their site. It was a good question, and I sent a response with a couple of ideas, and a postscript noting that it was such a good question that I was considering writing a blog post on the topic.
First, I want to mention that their question really had nothing to do with the idea that a link from a government site would somehow increase their rankings in the search engines more than links from other pages. But, let me address that aspect of links from government sites briefly.
Is a link from a .gov or a .edu worth more than a link from another set of pages? The truth is that we don’t really know.
There are a handful of references in patent applications and whitepapers that say positive things about government web sites. For instance, the Google patent application Information retrieval based on historical data says this about links from government sites:
Imagine that you are scrolling through a page, and see a section of the page highlighted. The text in that area matches an interest profile that you recently created, or it’s along the same topics that you’ve been searching through. Or it is somehow conceptually related to whatever you searched for that may have brought you to this page.
A patent application from the Palo Alto Research Center describes how something like this might work. Instead of highlighting only keywords, the following suggests ways to highlight sentences and sections of web pages that related in some conceptual manner to something that you may be searching for.
Method for automatically performing conceptual highlighting in electronic text
The inventors named in the patent are:
I’ve been taking a look at personalized recommendations systems recently, and one of the systems that I remember from earlier days on the web was for music, through a service known as Firefly. I’ve always wondered whatever happened to the service, and the people behind it.
I know that at one point, the company providing this service was partnered with Yahoo, and then it was later purchased by Microsoft. This personalized system was originally developed at MIT, and was incorporated into a business in 1995, by graduate students and Professor Patti Maes. Some of the technology developed by the company transformed into Microsoft’s Passport system.
Wired has a nice write up of the company in an article titled Firefly’s Dim Light Snuffed Out
In an article from this past May, Pitchfork also discusses some of those early days, when the professor turned to her students for some music recommendations because she didn’t like what was playing on Boston radio at the time, in Chris Dahlen’s Better Than We Know Ourselves. The article also looks at some more recent music recommendation systems.
There are a couple of mysteries associated with Google’s local search. One of them is, “How does the search engine decide which web pages should be associated with a specific business and location?” The second is, “What location should be associated with a business?”
If you’ve tried to get a page to rank well in local search, some of the details of this post may not surprise you. If you’ve tried to unravel the mystery of why a business is associated with an old address, and noticed that the old address still appears all over the pages of the business web site, some of the details won’t come as a shock.
Google introduced some new ideas on what it means to be an authoritative source for local search in a patent application that was published this week.
Some Local Optimization Tips Pre-Patent