Ask.com Patent on Optimizing Search Results Pages Based Upon User Activity

As a web site owner or online advertiser, it often makes good sense to look over statistics involving how people use your web site or your ads to see if pages might be changed to make them more user friendly, and increase the amount of sales or conversions that you make.

You might test different landing pages when you used paid advertising, or move different elements around on your site’s pages to see how people react to those changes.

Search engines often do the same type of thing, not only with the layout of their pages, but also with the results that they may present to searchers.

A new patent assigned to IAC Search and Media, Inc. (owners of Ask.com) describes how user data might be analyzed to help improve the look and feel of results pages, and the rankings of results, shown to users of a search engine.

Methods and systems for conceptually organizing and presenting information

Abstract:

Methods and systems for conceptually organizing and presenting information. A correlation of multiple users’ responses to the organization and presentation of information is used to determine an optimal organization and presentation of the information.

For one embodiment of the invention, in the context of search engine result optimization, the user activity and/or user information of multiple users, during a search session, is correlated with queries to effect an evolving association between queries and the organization and presentation of documents.

Systems in accordance with such embodiments employ the ability to store users’ activity over the entire search session, thus making possible the correlation of a number of different types of user activity and user information. The use of correlated user input allows such systems to provide relevant search results without the limitations imposed by the key-word-based systems of the prior art.

This patent describes a process in which information is collected about how users interact with “gathering pages” where information is presented to searchers. A gathering page may sometimes be presented to users of a search engine in different ways, so that reactions to the pages can be studied:

For one embodiment, the set of conceptually related information is a gathering page containing information related to a general concept of interest to a particular group of users.

Such a gathering page, may contain a number of related sub-concepts of any sort, including links to documents, directories, databases, spreadsheets, news items, audio, video, images, applications, advertisements, product descriptions, and reference information, as well as links to lists, tables, trees, or catalogs of any of the above items, and links to other gathering pages, all of which may be collected from any number of sources.

For one such embodiment, multiple, distinctly formulated, gathering pages are created that vary the organization and presentation of the set of information, including the number, type, arrangement, and prominence of the related sub-concepts.

In this way, the information provider attempts to anticipate an optimal way of organizing and presenting the information.

The information collected focuses upon how people use those pages during search sessions.

A search session is considered a sequence of recorded search engine actions of particular users. The use activity viewed could include:

  • The issuing of queries,
  • The clicking of links on the search page leading to internal or external data,
  • The clicking of links on subsequent internal pages leading to internal or external data, and;
  • A return to the search page or any internal page subsequent to clicking an internal or external link.

The search session may be limited to a specific amount of time.

I’m not sure if there’s anything revolutionary in this granted patent, but if you are interested in how they might be looking at data about individual searchers’ queries and results selections (or “picks”) and storing that information for later use – for when someone else makes similar choices – so that they can base results on those choices, it’s worth looking through.

The patent briefly skims over how this information might be used in personalized search, local searches (focusing upon the location being searched about), and localized searches (based upon where they believe the searcher is located).

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5 thoughts on “Ask.com Patent on Optimizing Search Results Pages Based Upon User Activity”

  1. Would it be safe to assume that the majors are probably using some of the user data for quality control already?

    This will probably in future (if not already) be tied into personalisation(z – I’m Irish) of results sets I imagine.

    Seems like user action is becoming a much more dominant factor in producing search result sets.

    Best regards
    Richard

  2. Hi Richard,

    I think that’s a pretty good assumption to make. From what I’ve heard, the issue isn’t so much whether they are using that kind of data, but rather how to use all of the data that they are collecting.

  3. So, as opposed to hagin “Page Rank” with Google, Ask.com is giving “page rank” to sites that are used most often? How would a blogger get higher ranking through Ask.com? Would it be like Alexa, where it is suggested that in order to get a good Alexa rank you use their tool bar to search for your site whenever you need to go to it?

  4. Hi Tori,

    I don’t think that this process is intended to replace the quality score (pagerank like socre) part of the ranking system that Ask uses as much as it is intended to look at user data associated with the way that people interact with results at the search engine.

    It doesn’t just look at what people click upon as a result of a search, but will look at more information than just that. For instance, if a number of people enter the same or similar queries during a session on a specific topic, the query terms and their results might be determined to be related somehow.

    If there are certain people who use the same queries, and tend to select the same results, they may be determined to have similar interests, and the next time one of them conducts a search that is similar to other people who are associated with them, those searchers might have the results that they see reranked somewhat to reflect the choices of those people who are similar to them.

    As far as how this might influence rankings, if you write compelling page titles and meta descriptions that might convince people to click upon your posts, and have posts that they might stick around to read and might answer their questions, those user activities could help you.

    The click- throughs plus the time spent upon your pages are two of the things that Ask may be paying attention to.

    Another is whether or not you addressed what they were looking for – if they leave your site quickly using their back button, or again quickly return to the search engine and perform the same query, it may be seen as a sign that your page isn’t a good result for that query – as opposed to one where it might seem that people where satisfied with what they found on your page.

  5. This seems fairly a good idea. Does it mean that it works on the basic of “Cookies” that are stored on the user’s computer ?

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