Positive and Negative Quality Ranking Factors from Google’s Blog Search (Patent Application)

Google’s blog search shows results in responses to searchers queries based upon a combination of relevance scores and quality scores.

The relevance scores are based upon the search query terms entered into the search box by a searcher, and use traditional styled information retrieval scores for documents. These scores could be created by looking at:

  • Number of times search terms appear in a blog post.
  • Places where search terms appear within the document (such as title or the text within the body of the post),
  • Characteristics of search terms appearing on the pages (such as font, size, color, etc.),
  • Search terms may be weighted differently from other search term when multiple search terms are present.
  • Proximity of search terms when multiple search terms are present may influence the IR score, and;
  • Other techniques for determining the IR score for a document can also be used.

In addition to a relevance score, the search engine looks at a quality score. A new patent application from Google discusses possible positive and negative ranking factors that might go into that quality scores that might be used by Google Blog Search, and provides some explanations for each of those factors.

Ranking blog documents
Invented by Andriy Bihun, Jason Goldman, Alex Khesin, Vinod Marur, Eduardo Morales, and Jeff Reynar
US Patent Application 20070061297
Published March 15, 2007
Filed: September 13, 2005

Abstract

A blog search engine may receive a search query. The blog search engine may determine scores for a group of blog documents in response to the search query, where the scores are based on a relevance of the group of blog documents to the search query and a quality of the group of blog documents. The blog search engine may also provide information regarding the group of blog documents based on the determined scores.

According to this patent application, there are two distinct sets of data that are used to score and determine the ranking of results in a blog search. The first is a relevance score of the post, based upon the query used by a searcher. The second is a blog quality score, which is independent of the query terms used in the search.

So how does Google come up with this quality score for a blog or blog post?

We’re told that a database is maintained by the search engine, and one of the fields in that database contains a quality score for each blog post. The quality score could be used to “promote, demote, or even eliminate a blog document (i.e., blog and/or post) from a set of search results.”

Determining a Quality Score

First step involved in deciding a quality score has the search engine obtaining information about a blog document. That information may be from:

  • The blog itself,
  • The post,
  • Metadata from the blog, and/or;
  • One or more feeds associated with the blog document.

Positive Indicators of Blog Quality

The next step is to identify positive indicators of quality:

  • popularity of the blog,
  • Implied popularity of the blog,
  • Inclusion of the blog in blogrolls,
  • Existence of the blog in high quality blogrolls,
  • tagging of the blog,
  • References to the blog by other sources,
  • A pagerank of the blog, and;
  • Other indicators could also be used.

What Google says about each of those:

Popularity

Popularity could be based upon news aggregator subscriptions:

A blog document having a high number of subscriptions implies a higher quality for the blog document. Also, subscriptions can be validated against “subscriptions spam” (where spammers subscribe to their own blog documents in an attempt to make them “more popular”) by validating unique users who subscribed, or by filtering unique Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of the subscribers.

Implied popularity

Instead of explicit subscriptions, an “implied popularity” could be calculated from data collected from people searching on Blog Search, and examining the click stream of search results:

For example, if a certain blog document is clicked more than other blog documents when the blog document appears in result sets, this may be an indication that the blog document is popular and, thus, a positive indicator of the quality of the blog document.

Inclusion of the blog in blogrolls

Blogrolls are a dense collection of links to external sites (usually other blogs) in which the author/blogger is interested. A blogroll link to a blog document is an indication of popularity of that blog document, so aggregated blogroll links to a blog document can be counted and used to infer magnitude of popularity for the blog document.

Existence of the blog in high quality blogrolls

A high quality blogroll is a blogroll that links to well-known or trusted bloggers. Therefore, a high quality blogroll that also links to the blog document is a positive indicator of the quality of the blog document.

This is also based upon the assumption that a well-known or trusted blogger would not link to a “spamming blogger.”

Tagging of the blog document

Some existing sites allow users to add “tags” to (i.e., to “categorize”) a blog document. These custom categorizations are an indicator that an individual has evaluated the content of the blog document and determined that one or more categories appropriately describe its content, and as such are a positive indicator of the quality of the blog document.

References to the blog document by other sources

For example, content of emails or chat transcripts can contain URLs of blog documents. Email or chat discussions that include references to the blog document is a positive indicator of the quality of the blog document.

Pagerank of the blog

A high pagerank (a signal usually calculated for regular web pages) is an indicator of high quality and, thus, can be applied to blog documents as a positive indication of the quality of the blog documents.

When a blog post is new, it may not be associated with a pagerank. The new post could possibly inherit the pagerank of the blog with which it is associated until an independent pagerank is determined for the new post.

Negative Indicators of Blog Quality

  • Frequency of new posts,
  • Content of the posts,
  • Size of the posts,
  • Link distribution of the blog,
  • The presence of ads in the blog, and;
  • Other indicators may also be used.

Frequency of new posts

There are timestamps associated with blog posts. They might provide some interesting insights:

Feeds typically include only the most recent posts from a blog document. Spammers often generate new posts in spurts (i.e., many new posts appear within a short time period) or at predictable intervals (one post every 10 minutes, or a post every 3 hours at 32 minutes past the hour). Both behaviors are correlated with malicious intent and can be used to identify possible spammers. Therefore, if the frequency at which new posts are added to the blog document matches a predictable pattern, this may be a negative indication of the quality of the blog document.

The content of posts

Mismatches between the content of feeds and the actual content on pages may be a signal used as a negative factor:

Spammers may put one version of content into a feed to improve their ranking in search results, while putting a different version on their blog document (e.g., links to irrelevant ads). This mismatch (between feed and blog document) can, therefore, be a negative indication of the quality of the blog document.

Also, in some instances, particular content may be duplicated in multiple posts in a blog document, resulting in multiple feeds containing the same content. Such duplication indicates the feed is low quality/spam and, thus, can be a negative indication of the quality of the blog document.

Ok, so does the little copyright notice at the bottom of my blog feeds posts count as a negative quality factor?

Words/phrases used blog posts

This negative factor might point at being careful about what you discuss in your blog posts:

For example, from a collection of blog documents and feeds that evaluators rate as spam, a list of words and phrases (bigrams, trigrams, etc.) that appear frequently in spam may be extracted. If a blog document contains a high percentage of words or phrases from the list, this can be a negative indication of quality of the blog document.

A blog detailing the characteristics of Nigerian spam emails may not rank highly in Google’s Blog Search.

Size of blog posts

If you try to maintain a strict count of words in creating your blog posts, this one seems to indicate that you should mix up the size of your posts a little:

Many automated post generators create numerous posts of identical or very similar length. As a result, the distribution of post sizes can be used as a reliable measure of spamminess. When a blog document includes numerous posts of identical or very similar length, this may be a negative indication of quality of the blog document.

Link distribution of the blog document

It appears that under this quality scoring system, whom you are linking to is considered, too:

As disclosed above, some posts are created to increase the pagerank of a particular blog document. In some cases, a high percentage of all links from the posts or from the blog document all point to ether a single web page, or to a single external site. If the number of links to any single external site exceeds a threshold, this can be a negative indication of quality of the blog document.

Ads in a blog

If a blog contains a large number of ads, this may seen as a negative indication of the quality of a blog.

According to the patent application, blogs typically contain three types of content:

  • The content of recent posts,
  • A blogroll, and;
  • Blog metadata (author profile information and/or other information about the blog or its author).

If ads are present, they usually appear within the blog metadata section or near the blogroll. If ads are seen in the recent posts part of blog, they could be considered a negative quality factor.

Conclusion

Chances are Google looks at other positive and negative quality factors in deciding upon a quality score.

It’s also possible that some of the ones listed above aren’t in use, but they provide some insight into the kinds of things that the folks at Google might be considering when finding ways to rank web posts and pages in response to a search.

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93 thoughts on “Positive and Negative Quality Ranking Factors from Google’s Blog Search (Patent Application)”

  1. Great blog story.

    Personally, I can’t wait for the next big name to come up. I am so tired of dealing with Google and all it’s dirty little secrets. I miss the old days when you could put up a very nice and attractive website with the keywords and SEO factors in place, and having it show up without worrying so much about Google.

    I have never been much of a blogger, but I saw your comments on one of the sites I subscribe to, and wanted to voice my opinion.

    WebsiteHosting1.com

  2. Very interesting. I wonder if any of these custom ranking factors might make it across to the main search in some form or another. After all, Google seem to give favour to blogs in their main search results.

    Excellent post – it’s always good to know what signals are being used as you never know when they might be migrated over to other areas of search.

    Best rgds
    Richard

  3. Thanks for deciphering the legalese for us. patent stuff is mind-numblingly boring (and I have a degree in computer engineering!)

  4. Definately tells me that I need to go to work to build some blogrolls on some of my blogs… thats for sure. I love it when google patents something – that shares with us all exactly what needs to be done. Although they are constantly changing things as to how exactly they work and filing the patents which are published after the changes have already been in effect for a while.

  5. Apparently people who disagree with or don’t like your blog/content/opinions can also click the Flag-blog button on blogger.com/blogspot.com and google will automatically block the blog and label it as a spam blog.

  6. Thanks, E.

    I think that most bloggers really have nothing to worry about when it comes to these quality scores. Most of the things that are listed as positive are things that many of them are doing anyway, and most of the negatives are things that they aren’t doing.

    Most blogs could be optimized a little better from a relevance standpoint, but there are some excellent free plug-ins for sites using wordpress that help in that regard.

    Richard,

    Thank you. It’s long been my opinion that one of the reasons why blogs, especially blogs around specific themes, tend to do well in search engines is because their authors explore so many variations around those themes, and conversations amongst blogs, along with links, help them be seen as relevant for those topics, which they often are.

    Not sure if these quality factors would be useful in the main Web index, but perhaps some of them would be.

    Hi Matt,

    The patent application really doesn’t emphasize having a blog roll on your own site, but if you do, you likely improve the chances that someone might add a link to your site upon theirs, especially if they find value in your posts, and their readers might, too. There are more that I would like to add to my own blog roll, but it’s getting pretty long.

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  8. came to this post thru the webpronews letter..and
    this post is worth of it…it provides some useful
    information ..thanx for the valuable post.

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  12. Bill, I may be mistaken, but I thought Vanessa Fox said that Google ignores the footer and sidebars. Wouldn’t that make the blogroll irrelevant? Any thoughts?

  13. Hi Kirby,

    I’ve heard or read a lot of things that Vanessa has said, but don’t recall that statement from her exactly, or the context within which it was stated.

    It’s possible that Google has a fair handle at being able to distinguish between the main content sections for many blogs, and footers and sidebars. They do a pretty good job of distinguishing between multiple reviews that appear upon the same page for local search, and the patent application that describes that process of visual segmentation states that the process it uses could be used to identify sidebars, headers, footers, and other parts of pages.

    Might Google ignore links within a sidebar or footer for rankings in Web search, and consider them for ranking in Blog search? Maybe.

    Another possible option is that Google applies different weights for links depending upon where they are located upon a site. The patent application on historical data and information retrieval described a way of applying modifications to pagerank, both positive and negative, for links based upon things such as age.

  14. Your detailed review of Positive and Negative Indicators of Quality is much appreciated!

  15. Wow, nice list of factors! This is the best writeup I have ever read. Among the list, I believe popularity is the most important. For example, john chow running a lot of ads on his site, gets higher in Page Rank each day!

  16. Well , this is a nice bunch of factors. But lots of them are weak. Let me give an example.
    Frequency of new posts. You talk about the constant amount of posts in equal periods of time or at 34 minutes of each hour. Let’s say 20 posts daily. And I agree with you that this is obvious a script. It is run by a crontab. What the script does : it posts 10 messages. But. I may make it the following way:
    the script runs – takes a random number of messages higher than 3 and lower than 9 and post it. Then changes crontab adding 13 minutes.
    There is absolutely no way google can count this as a bot.
    Sorry for my english , i am russian.

  17. Hi Cycling,

    The list includes a number of things that they may be doing, but it may not include everything that they are doing. As a patent application, it likely only includes a representative list of the factors that they may be looking for – it wouldn’t be surprising if they held a few things back.

  18. I’m not sure that I could tell you for certain, Paul.

    Links from a blog roll is just one of a number of “quality” factors mentioned in the patent application. It could be weighted or combined with the others in a number of different ways, so the score of your blog for those other things (and possibly factors not mentioned in the patent application) could also play a role.

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  20. Hey Bill, excellent analysis there.

    I stopped by to see if I could find anything related to text to link proximity ratios (as one does) and ended up reading this.

    Thanks Bill, its got me thinking on a few things

    Cheers

  21. Thanks, Rob.

    Not sure if Ive written anything specifically about text to link proximity ratios. I know one of the original PageRank papers has a mention. I’ll look around. It might be an interesting post.

  22. That would be very cool Bill, If anyone could do a topic justice , I cant think of many other better suited.

    In my earlier meanderings, I was basically thinking about how a page would be parsed with this in mind, and how the actual mechanics of it would all work. I’m sure there is a lot of work done on this already for relevancy scoring purposes relative to anchor text.

    It would be cool to read some analysis of so called quality documents and see if there were any correlations between how they linked out and the associated word relationships.

    eg. 1st related instance of ANCHOR TEXT >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>2nd instance of related text etc.

    Was the link in a paragraph? Did it have a heading, were the other words on the page semantically related?Were there any particular commonalities?

    That sort of thing.

    It would probably form only a very small aspect of any algo, but as you know yourself, the small parts make up the whole. :D

  23. It would be cool, Rob. I’ll ssee if I can come up with something interesting on the topic.

    I do seem to recall reading something about expanding the window around anchor text – the number of words explored to either side of a link, and how that might be used to determine relevance. I’m going to have to dig that up.

    Punctuation and HTML formatting of those words around a link might go into something like that, also. The small parts do make the difference. :)

  24. Hi Bill,

    I’ve attempted to create a comprehensive summary of yours and Alister Cameron’s analysis of the Google blogsearch patent (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/04/18/how-google-blogsearch-ranks-your-posts-in-their-own-words/#comment-1459951).
    In addition, I’ve contributed some of my own analysis in an attempt not only to summarize but to enrich yours and his insights. So I thought I’d leave you a message to let you know that the summary is posted, in the hope you’d leave some feedback either in the comments or send me an email.

    Regards,
    Gab
    SEO ROI (SEOROI.com)

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  26. As a number of commentors have already noted, this is an excellent resource to look at when considering how to set up your own blog, since it identifies pretty clearly those factors that go into getting your blog at the top of a search engine response. One still has to consider, though, just what kinds of search terms an average user will use and take those into account in trying to get that site to the top as well. I’m curious as to whether any bloggers out there have done research to try and discover answers to this particular question, and if so how you went about it. In addition, though, I’m just generally fascinated by the information here, since it reveals a little about how some of the more mysterious aspects of the web actually work. I think a lot of us just accept that the engine will deliver what we want, or we will complain about its general uselessness, but without ever taking the time to think through why it behaves as it does. Very interesting.

  27. rzrsej

    I think a lot of us just accept that the engine will deliver what we want, or we will complain about its general uselessness, but without ever taking the time to think through why it behaves as it does.

    I like the metaphor that William Burroughs used as the centerpiece for his novel Naked Lunch – the idea that most of us eat a meal without looking too closely at the food held within the spoon we put in front of our face, but if we were to look at it more closely, we might feel differently about it than we do. In other words, we take a lot of things for granted, without looking at them too closely.

    I like the idea of taking that closeup view if I can.

  28. Here’s another view—Forget SEO! Forget Keywords! I am not here to appease search engines or algorithms or limit and squander my writing style focusing only on SEO tricks and keywords. Ridiculous, I think! Instead, how about we focus on quality blogging and we let search engines figure us out, not the other way around?! Who’s with me?

    – Michael Erik
    Quality Blog Critic
    http://www.qualityblogger.com
    “The Best Things In Life Are Free”

  29. No one here is suggesting using tricks for search engines at all, Michael.

    I respect the approach of focusing upon quality blogging. But I also have been on the Web long enough to have a rational skepticism when it comes to the search engines and their ability to “figure us out.”

    Besides, it’s interesting to see the assumptions that they make when they do the things that they do.

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  31. Some of the statistics and tips are really interested me. SEO is such thing, that always brings something new. You’ll never know enough and your blog and posts is another way to investigate.

  32. These stats are good to know, most bloggers should not have much to worry about with these quality scores but I know that I myself need to focus a lot more on my blogroll.

  33. Way you explained the positive and negative quality ranking factors from Google’s Blog Search is very decent. These points are not only helpful for freshers to this field but are also very informative to the professionals. I really like the point in which you mentioned about the quality score.

  34. Points you discuss in this post are really beneficial for webmasters and growing SEO experts. You make the things very simple and easy for every reader. I am completely agree with your points but the thing is Google keep on changing its algorithms after certain span of time, so we cant say any thing with surety.

  35. Thanks William and Rob.

    The specifics about how a search engine may find relevance, and rank results may change over time. What’s interesting is looking at the assumptions that they may make, and the reasons why they make them.

    Why might a search engineer find one thing important, and another not so important? Are the assumptions that they are making even good ones? What else might they find value in?

    Google may change its algorithms from time to time, but their primary focus is in providing results to searchers that answer the questions or queries or information needs of those searchers. Rather than taking the lists above of positive and negative factors, I think it’s better to look at each and question whether or not it helps them bring pages to searchers that the searchers hope to find.

  36. Hey, this is some great information that you have put together in this post. I have been searching for ways to better my site and this will help.

  37. i too much care about ranking not the quality of the site. if your site have good quality then you get lot traffic and ofcourse good PR too

  38. Hi Locjan,

    Unfortunately, it can be easy to become too concerned about rankings, and not enough about quality. :(

    I agree with you. Focus upon creating something of quality, and people will appreciate what you’ve created.

  39. This looks like PageRank all over again but for blogs. Not sure I understand the concept of ranking blogs since every blog is unique and different in its own way since no two people are alike and a blog is an online extension of a person’s thoughts, observations, and perceptions. I believe first and foremost Google Blog Search should be a part of the Google Search homepage. I do not agree with ranking blogs in Blog Search Engine though. Better if blogs are thrown up in search based on relevancy of the keywords.

  40. Hi moserw,

    I think your comparison of those quality ranking factors to PageRank is a good one. Both PageRank and the Quality factors listed in the patent application are supposed to be indications of the quality of a page or blog) as opposed to the relevance of a page or post for a specific topic.

    I do like that there is a separate blog search, and that blog posts will also show up in Web results. I suspect that the ranking factors used for blog posts in a Web search may be a little different than the ranking factors used for other kinds of web pages.

  41. I know this is an old blog article, but it still has a lot of good, relevant ideas. Although I’m relatively new to blogging, I still feel that if you write about what interests you, and worry less about what works well for the search engines and if your posts follow good SEO, in the end you’ll gain loyal readers, and in turn your popularity and monetization should increase as well.

  42. Hi Mass Kash,

    I think it’s helpful understanding the medium that you express yourself within, and when you blog or create other webpages, it doesn’t hurt to have a sense of how a search engine might be helpful in bringing visitors to your pages.

    Definitely focus upon your interests, and write what your audience will find interesting. It isn’t important to be obsessive about SEO – that’s just one of the tools that you use when you share your words with others on the Web. It’s good to follow best practices if you can, but focus upon building relationships with your readers first.

  43. I agree, a quality website that has great content or is something people are interested in will succeed faster than a site that doesn’t contain these qualities. But with that said, I have seen websites with absolutely no quality at all rank very well in the serps! My point is that any website can rank high in major search engines but a quality site will rank faster and stay longer!

  44. Hi Justin,

    There are sites that end up showing in search results that may not be high quality. Patent filings like this one are attempts to try to identify signals that might indicate that one site is higher quality than others, but sometimes we do see sites in search results that we wonder about because there may be other sites that may be better choices, or that we think may be better choices.

    I do think that a site focusing upon providing quality content and a good user experience stands a better chance of longevity. :)

  45. Just as soon as we figure it out, they’ll change it.

    Great information.

    Thanks,

    Jayden

  46. Thank you, Jayden.

    We don’t know for certain if the things that they listed in the patent application were all the things that they were looking at. The smart thing to do would be to only list some of the factors in a patent application, and not all of them. So, they may be considering a number of other factors that aren’t listed.

  47. I want ask a question.to you :) Which more than batter? Place my blogroll in sidebar or post it in page at my blog?

    Thanks for your answer :)

  48. Hi Yustian,

    That’s a really good question, and I’m not sure that I can provide you with a good answer.

    This patent application seems to point towards the value of having links to high quality blogs in blog roll, and being included in blogrolls at high quality blogs.

    There are other patent filings that seem to imply that links in heading sections, footers, and sidebars might not be given as much weight as links in the main content body of a page.

    I took a number of links to forums and some other types of places that were in my sidebar a while back, and moved them to the main content area of a page on “outside reading” because my blogroll was getting pretty large, and I wanted to reduce its size and still provide links to those pages as resources to visitors here.

    It’s really difficult to gauge the impact of that move, however.

  49. Ottimo articolo, peccato che il mio pessimo inglese mi obblighi ad usare un traduttore online per capire meglio che cosa ci sia scritto.

    Excuse me if I write in Italian but to write in English are not very good…google translate ;-)

    Ciao from Italy

  50. Hi Fabio.

    Thanks. I wish I did have the time (and ability) to translate my posts into a number of different languages. I am happy to hear that you liked the post.

  51. Hi Great post very interesting. within Google Adwords you are able to check the quality score of your ppc campaign. Is there any way of identifying what the quality score for our blog posts?

    Cheers

  52. Hi SEO Nottingham,

    That kind of information isn’t available outside of the walls of the Googleplex as far as I know. It’s likely a combination of trade secret and patent protected technology, and may be prone to changing as the search engineers at Google think about ways to try to make pages more relevant for search queries. Representatives from Google have stated publicly that they look at more than 200 ranking factors for web pages to order them in search results. Some of those are based upon a “quality” score, which could include PageRank, and others upon how relevant they may appear to search queries. It’s likely that the rankings of blog posts are also fairly complex, but might include other things, such as possibly a “freshness” score.

  53. Hi Aaron,

    I think Technorati’s approach is pretty simplistic in comparion to what is described in this patent filing.

    Sadly, I can’t say I’m always happy with the results I see in Google’s blog search.

  54. Bill, it’s basically the same thing that technorati and all the rest of them are doing. I give google props for trying to compete in the blog arena, and they are doing very well, especially with alerts and google reader. Thanks for the info and keep us updated on what you find out about the patent and technology behind it.

  55. I sent a request to be included in Google Blogs, but they said I needed to have a unique number in my url(at least three numbers long). How can I achieve this using Joomla?

  56. Hi Kenyan Music Guru,

    Google News has that requirement for publishers to be included in the news feeds that Google wil show there:

    Technical Requirements: Article URLs

    I don’t believe Google Blog Search ever required a specific format to have a blog included in Google Blog search.

    Here’s where to submit your blog to be included in Blog search from Google:

    http://blogsearch.google.com/ping

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  58. It is absolutely amazing to me the power Google has to change many aspects of our lives. It is a little intimidating when someone is that big.

  59. Hi SteveF,

    Google does have a lot of power when it comes to attempting to raise the visibility of your website online, but they aren’t the only way to get visitors to your site or sites. It’s definitely worth exploring others as well.

  60. Google uses a pretty intense algorithm to rank websites in it’s search engine. Although no one knows for sure, we can always speculate the things that help and hurt your ranking. One thing is for sure, if your website looks like it’s got good content and it’s trusted (aka linked to) by other sites, Google takes this into account and ranks you higher in their search engine.

  61. Hi Sean,

    Google uses a number of algorithms these days to rank pages, which can make everything even more complicated. I agree with you that good content, and links from trusted sites are two signals that are part of the foundation of good rankings.

  62. This is great information to have! I know a lot of people are often mystified by Google, and many more that rely on trial and error to determine how Google ranks things. I love that you were so in-depth and clear in this article.

  63. Hi Bill,

    You said that”If a blog contains a large number of ads, this may seen as a negative indication of the quality of a blog.”

    I was wondering that does this means Google can considers Adsense ads as negative factor?

  64. Hi Max,

    I don’t believe that Google considers Adsense advertisements to be a negative factor, but if you’re showing more adsense on a page than Google says you should, that could potentially be a problem. If you are showing ads from other places as well, and you have so many advertisements that your content is overshadowed by them, that could potentially be a problem as well.

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  66. We’re told that a database is maintained by the search engine, and one of the fields in that database contains a quality score for each blog post.
    _________
    James

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