Should a Search Engine Sell Business Intelligence Gathered from Searchers’ Queries?
Ask.com’s patent application published this week, Methods and systems for generating query and result-based relevance indexes, notes that information from users’ queries and interactions with search results is limited in use to provide more relevant results to searchers.
That kind of information includes time of searches, the geographic sources of queries, and demographic variables about searchers. This information might be useful to businesses willing to pay for it.
Should a search engine offer that kind of information to businesses?
Some examples from the patent application:
On a query for Nascar:
Most stock car races are located in Southeastern region. However, in a case where a plot of the geographic profile for users asking about “NASCAR” indicates that the number of “NASCAR” queries originating from the Northwestern region was unexpectedly high, external entities, such as NASCAR, may use this business information on the public interest to by moving some races to tracks in the interested region.
On queries for specific movie names:
Foreign and art house movies are often released in a limited number of major cities. Query volume may indicate regions where interest in a particular movie is unusually high, perhaps due to concentrations of an ethnic or language group in that location. The same could be said for other products only available in limited release, such as designer fashions and specialty foods.
On searches for specific musicians’ names:
A musical artist is planning a tour. A factor that might affect which cities are on the tour could be the level of interest in the artist as measured by queries. One artist might be popular in college towns, another in urbanized areas, another only on the West Coast.
On queries for advertised products:
An external entity, such as an advertising company is trying multiple ad campaigns in different cities. The relative increase in queries about the product in each city could be one measure of the effectiveness of each campaign.
How much might a search engine know about its users, and what kinds of information might it share with others?
In another embodiment, demographic variables of a user may be logged. Exemplary demographic variables include age, gender, income, occupation, education, socioeconomic status, religion, nationality, race, family life cycle, family size, and sexual orientation. Any number and combination of demographic data may be used to define a demographic metric. Further, psychographic characteristics (adventuresome, techno-phobic, conservative, etc.) of users may also be logged. Various methods of determining a likely demographic variable or psychographic characteristics may be used.
All of the major search engines collect a considerable amount of information about the queries that people use, and their interactions with the search engine and other Web sites.
Indexing information found on the Web, and providing information to searchers is one thing. Collecting and indexing information about searchers and offering it for sale is something that many searchers may not consider in their use of search engines.