20 More Ways that Search Engines May Rerank Search Results

Last October, I made a list of 20 Ways Search Engines May Rerank Search Results, which was well received (thank you!), and it was suggested recently that I come up with an updated list. There’s also a followup post to this one now at Another 10 Ways Search Engines May Rerank Search Results.

When someone searches at a search engine, the conventional approach a search engine might take is to try to find pages that contain the keywords searched for, and rank and serve them in an order which combines a relevancy score for each of the pages with some kind of importance metric, such as a PageRank Score.

This list contains links to a number of patent applications and a few papers involving ways to rerank search results. Most of these were published after the creation of my previous reranking list.

The approaches in some may overlap a little with some on the previous list in terms of topics covered, but these are new documents discussing how search results might be reranked.

Some of the methods described here may not presently be in use, but it might not hurt to think about them.

1. Desktop Search Influenced by the Contents of an Active Window

Granted on Tuesday, this Google patent describes how a search of the Web may be altered based upon an active document, such as a text document or email or IM message, in an open window on a person’s computer at the time that they are searching while using a desktop search application.

2. Expanded and Adjacent Queries from User Logs

Another recent patent filing, from Microsoft, takes a look at user query sessions log files. It looks at the terms used in a query, and takes aggregated queries of others who have used the same search terms along with other words in their queries to create expanded queries.

It also looks at related queries during sessions (adjacent queries) from other searchers who have searched for the same query. Results from these expanded queries and adjacent queries may be used to rerank the results that show up in response to the original query.

3. Social Network Endorsements

If you are a member of a social network, and the network allows you to rate and endorse web pages, and to let your friends do the same, the endorsements made by you and from your friends may cause the results that you see from a search be reranked, according to a Google patent application.

4. Personalized Anchor Text Relevance

Links from pages that contain some anchor text that seems related to information found in an explicit or implicit profile of your interests may weigh more heavily in the rankings of pages under the following recently granted Google patent.

Explicit information is information related to something that you have expressly stated that you have some interest in. Implicit information involves information that may be inferred that you are interested in based upon such things as pages that you have bookmarked, or visited in the past.

5. Recognizing Semantically Meaningful Compounds

A search for more than one term may result in a search engine searching for sets of pages that use all of those terms. Treating some of the words within a query as semantically meaningful compounds, and reranking based upon pages which contain such a compound may mean that more relevant documents are returned to a searcher.

6. Use of Trends and Bursty Topics

Fresh and highly topical and popular content related to a query may make its way into search results, and push down other relevant results, from an Ask.com patent filing.

Correlated top gainer events can be used to improve the ranking of search engines and predicting search trends. This is used for adding freshness to the Web index. Those Web pages that contain fresh topics–identified over the stream of news–are boosted in ranking for the period of observation. After a certain amount of time (e.g., a week, a month, etc.), if the topic is no longer fresh the boosting effect is subject to a decay rule.

7. User Distributed Search Results

A Google patent application describes a method of letting people insert search results into their blogs, emails, and instant messages. Reputation scores may be created for people who do this, and the higher the reputation score, the higher that result might rank for a relevant query searched for by someone else.

8. Advanced Search Users

A Microsoft paper looks at how advanced users of search engines searching and browser results, to get a sense of how results might be improved for all searchers.

9. Dual Trustrank

Using community endorsements and ratings of endorsers, along with link-based trustrank, in a dual trustrank process from Yahoo, to rerank pages. The idea is that there are members of your social network whom you trust, and if they endorse a page, than it is likely to be more trustworthy.

Couple that with a link analysis approach to finding webspam, and this “dual” method of identifying trust can be used to show a searcher more trustworthy pages.

10. Web Traffic

By looking at real time, or near real time web traffic and activity, including search results selections at other search engines, results can be reranked under the methods described in this Ask.com patent application.

11. Different Queries, Similar Results and Selections

A Yahoo patent application looks at query histories for different queries that provide similar results and similar selections amongst the searchers who enter those queries. This may allow a search engine to broaden result sets to include results from those different queries.

12. Understanding Timely Topics through Alerts

The frequency and timeliness of alert sign ups for different topics could affect rankings under this Google patent application.

13, 14, 15. Similar Users with Similar Interest and Their Selections

Three methods of clustering users with similar interests, to rerank results based upon what those other users have selected. There’s some similarity under these approaches, and some significant differences. But is seemed reasonable at the time I wrote this to cluster them together.

16. Paid and Organic Results on the Same Page

The appearance of results in both paid search and organic might cause the organic results to be removed, as described in this Microsoft patent application. Not a major “reranking,” but an interesting one.

17. High Confidence Spelling Corrections

Spelling corrections where the search engine believes with a high degree of confidence that the query included a misspelling may result in pages being included in results which use the correct spelling. The results for what the search engine believes is the misspelling may then be pushed back, under this Google patent application.

18. Language Match Between Query and Pages Returned

If the language used in the query doesn’t match the language used on the page being returned (except for English language pages), the page may be moved down in search results:

19. Labels of Custom Search Results

Reranking based upon the creation and use of custom search engines on different topics, with labels relevant to the queries used. Rather than pointing at the patent filing for this one, this paper on indexing data structures was pretty interesting:

In the case of Google Co-op, customized search engines can specify query patterns that trigger specific facets as well as provide hints for re-ranking search results. The annotations that any customized search engine specifies are visible only within the context of that search engine. However, as we start seeing more custom search engines, it would be desirable to point users to different engines that might be relevant.

  • Structured Data Meets the Web: A Few Observations (no longer available)

20. Agent Rank

Rankings based upon the reputation of an author, under a system that ranks different parts of pages based upon verifiable authorship of those sections.

I wrote about this one some more at Search Engine Land – Google’s Agent Rank Patent Application

Other Factors, like Universal Search

There are probably a number of other factors that may influence and cause search results to be reranked. I didn’t even include Universal and Blended search results in this list, though I probably could and should have.

Again, it’s possible that some of these reranking methods are presently being used, some may be used in the future, and some may not be used at all. It’s even more likely that as we move forward, that two people performing the same search in different locations, or at different times, or both, will see different results from the search engines in response to the same queries.

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32 thoughts on “20 More Ways that Search Engines May Rerank Search Results”

  1. Have I mentioned that I love your blog, Bill? I finally set myself up with a feedreader this week and yours was one of the first 10 I added! And it’s because of posts like this, where you expose the underpinnings of search that I’m a fan. Keep up the good work :). Sphunn !

  2. Thanks very much for your kind words, Gab.

    It’s putting together posts like this where I learn about the underpinnings of search, so we’re in this together. Much appreciated.

  3. “17. High Confidence Spelling Corrections”

    this is so annoying. I dont want google to alter the search I made. But it happens from time to time and I didn’t ever help. They even add new words to the search (try searching for Super Mario World). This is annoying aswell. Especially this case where google is searching for a download link, which would be against copyright laws.

  4. Hi k68,

    That one does bother me a little, too. I don’t mind seeing the message “did you mean xxxxx,” but I’m not sure that I like it when the search engine decides to blend in results for what they believe is the “correct” spelling of a word in the query.

    With the “super mario world” example, that may be more of a “query expansion” approach. My number 2 – Expanded and Adjacent Queries from User Logs – uses a Microsoft patent as a reference, but it’s possible that Google could be doing that, too.

    I do believe that Google may be trying to deliver people to a final destination with some expansions of queries. It’s possible, though we don’t know that for certain. It’s a little like the “Site Links” feature that they show under some top results, where they provide additional links within the same domain that they believe might be what people are actually looking for, and hope to bring them to that page without having to go through intermediary pages.

    By copyright laws, I’m guessing that you’re referring to the concept of contributory copyright infringement, where someone facilitates the ability of others to gain access to illegal or pirated copies of something. That’s a murky gray area when it comes to search engines providing links to pages.

    I suspect that a search engine might not be found to be acting in that capacity if it came to an actual lawsuit, but I also suspect that the issue will likely be litigated at some point in time.

  5. Bill, love the list. Thank you. If you didn’t do it, I don’t know who else would!

    My only concern is with #16. I’ve heard the idea tossed around from time to time and I really hope this doesn’t become a major practice. Do you have more info on if the other engines are doing this and to what extent? As a business, I would obviously want to remove the paid listing over the organic, but even then, there are reasons PPC and SEO target the same keywords. It just feels like a nasty game to me. :(

  6. Thank you, Rhea. :)

    Removing an organic result because there’s a paid result sort of troubles me, too. When that patent filing came out, I searched around to see if Microsoft was doing that, and if the other engines were, too.

    I’ve seen paid and organic listings for the same pages at Google in a result set and for Yahoo too, but not at live.com. I didn’t spend a lot of time investigating, and haven’t returned to it in a while. Microsoft may or may not be doing this, but I haven’t delved into it all that deeply.

    I’d prefer the organic listing over the paid listing, too. But if I were willing to pay for the listing on a results page where my site was also shown for the organic result, I’m not sure that I see what the problem with that might be. I’m guessing that Microsoft wants to diversify the sources of results shown on a results page, but I’m missing the point as to why they would do this.

  7. Hi Bill, a ways back there was a really good article that dug into that subject, but for the life of me I can’t remember where I saw it, maybe from David? If I see it I will pass it along.

    I wrote a long post about it at Is Microsoft Removing Web Results When the Same Page Also Appears in Paid Results?. I think a few other people picked up on it, and wrote articles – there are some trackbacks from my post on it.

    While I am thinking about it, did you get the link I sent you via your contact form?

    I’m not certain. Would you please send that to me again. Thanks.

    Hi Rhea,

    I hope their goal is to diversify results, because I have a paranoid belief that it’s to boost their PPC profits

    I’d like to think so, too. And the document discusses that in a very vague manner. But I share the same paranoia.

  8. “But if I were willing to pay for the listing on a results page where my site was also shown for the organic result, I’m not sure that I see what the problem with that might be”

    Hi Bill, a ways back there was a really good article that dug into that subject, but for the life of me I can’t remember where I saw it, maybe from David? If I see it I will pass it along. While I am thinking about it, did you get the link I sent you via your contact form?

  9. I hope their goal is to diversify results, because I have a paranoid belief that it’s to boost their PPC profits. As a company, if I continually see that I’m not ranking naturally for a word that I’m getting strong paid listings for, I’m going to continue paying for the ads. In short I can see them taking advantage of a lot of companies that don’t know any better.

  10. William,

    Great informative content. My blog readers at Marketing Ease, could benefit from your blog and knowledge. Thank you for your expertise!

    Krista

  11. #16 is kind of scary. I don’t like the idea of my organic listing being removed in favor of a paid one. Sounds like a business decision made by Microsoft.

  12. Great post indeed, including the follow up. What’s also scary is that search engine ranking tools like RankInspector or free keyword ranking scripts like those on SEO Book will be of less use in the near future, leaving search marketeers with nothing but the little indicators as far as rankings are concerned

  13. I’ve long suspected that web traffic was being used as a factor in search results.

    Now I have some degree of proof. Thanks for putting together this wonderful series of informative articles.

  14. You’re welcome, fatlester.

    Now that I’ve done two in this series, I suspect (hope) that I’ll be able to come up with a third one next October that covers some significant new ground.

  15. I really think that search engines can utalize the voting systems and metrics of social media to figure out what is important to rank. A 5% bias in the rankings would be huge for sites that put out great content.

  16. “Paid and Organic Results on the Same Page”

    This would upset a lot of internet marketers but probably be better for search results. Currently i run a campaign where I am ranking 2 or 3 for paid results and 1 or 2 for organic. Adding the paid results almost directly above my organic results has increased my CLR almost 3x. I pray they never implement this.

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