In September of 2007, Google research scientists Bill Schilit and Okan Kolak announced a new feature for Google Book Search which they called Popular Passages. The announcement came in an Inside Google Book Search blog post titled Dive into the meme pool with Google Book Search
Popular Passages provides us with the ability to find connections between books by taking interesting quotations or passages from one book or magazine or publication, and showing where those appear in other literary works. For example, the following passage shows up the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game:
As thus: lately in a wreck of a Californian ship, one of the passengers fastened a belt about him with two hundred pounds of gold in it, with which he was found afterwards at the bottom. Now, as he was sinking — had he the gold? or had the gold him?
Would it surprise you if over 40 percent of the queries entered into search boxes at search engines consist of proper nouns, such as the names of specific people or places or things?
Or that combinations of proper nouns and nouns might make up over 70 percent of most searches?
At least those are a couple of the conclusions from researchers at Yahoo who are trying to find effective ways to better understand the structure of search queries used by searchers.
A study of queries entered into Yahoo’s search engine in August of 2006 took a close look at The Linguistic Structure of English Web-Search Queries (pdf), and tried to get an understanding of the way that people phrase what they are looking for when they search.
The researchers behind the study came up with some interesting information about the queries that people use, and the structure of those queries.
When you type a search query term into a search box at Google or Yahoo or Live.com, the search engines might go through their indexes, and try to find the most relevant and important pages in their databases for the word or phrase that you want to find out more about.
But those search engines might try to improve the results that they show to you by trying to understand the intent behind a search rather than just looking for pages that match keywords that you typed as a search query.
Search Engines and Searcher Intent
What do the search engines themselves reveal about the importance of considering the intent behind a search?
I’m in a testing mood tonight, and put together a list of tests that you can run your blog or web site through if you feel up to learning more about your pages…
1. See what grade level your blog is at with a Readability Test. (The original link has been replaced with a more informative one. The older one kept on becoming unavailable, and there were some issues involving possible web spam associated with it.)
2. Find out if the Gender Genie can predict the gender of your blog’s author.
3. Gauge how well the HTML or XHTML of your blog validates with the W3C Markup Validation Service.
It’s a little unusual to see a document from a search engine discussing search engine optimization.
It’s even more rare to see one providing details on how that search engine might actually optimize web sites for search engines.
A patent application from Yahoo, published at the start of January, provides details on how the search engine could automatically optimize web pages for search engines.
The process described involves looking at queries performed by searchers in search engine log files and possibly also looking at the browsing activity of those searchers.
It would also involve looking at information that they have compiled about how words might be semantically related to each other as concepts or topics (or to use their word, as units), and the popularity or trendiness of those terms or units.