Why does Google customize some search results based upon a previous query that you’ve performed? Is there a special relationship between those query terms, and if so, how did Google define that relationship?
Imagine searching for “luxury car” at Google, and then performing another search for “infiniti.” On the second search, you find a page in the search results that looks like it will provide you with information that you are looking for, and you select a page.
Now imagine that a number of other people perform the same series of searches and select the same page.
It’s possible that Google might start considering the search for “luxury car” and the search for “infiniti” to be related queries. It’s also possible that the page selected in the second search for “infiniti” might start ranking more highly for the query “luxury car.”
A patent originally filed by Google in 2003 was granted this week, and it explores how search rankings might be “improved” by looking at related queries.
Methods and systems for improving a search ranking using related queries
Invented by Simon Tong, Mark Pearson, and Sergey Brin
Assigned to Google
US Patent 7,505,964
Granted March 17, 2009
Filed: September 12, 2003
The patent tells us that Google might use a number of different approaches to determining whether queries might be related, and uses an example of queries that are performed back-to-back, or consecutively, as one of those approaches. In addition to tracking which queries a searcher might perform, the patent tells us that it might track the behavior of searchers, such as which pages a searcher might click through in a set of search results:
For example, when a user types in a first search query such as “infinity auto” and then inputs a second search query such as “infiniti” immediately afterward, the related query processor may define a relationship between the first search query and the second search query.
In this example, the relationship or proximity between search queries would be defined as “back-to-back” or consecutive.
Thus, for the query “infinity auto,” relationships to queries “infiniti,” “luxury car,” “quality luxury car,” and “Japanese quality luxury car” may be defined if a user inputs these queries immediately following the initial query “infinity auto.”
Other types of relationships or proximities can be defined according to the invention and stored by the related query database.
Relationships between queries might be determined and weighed differently based upon a few different considerations.
For instance, queries might be decided to be more closely related if they are typed in by a searcher consecutively, than if there is one or more queries between them.
Or queries might be determined to be related if they are performed by a searcher with a certain period of time, such as within 30 minutes of one another. The patent provides a number of examples of how queries might be related, which include:
- Having been input as consecutive search queries by users previously (whether once or multiple times),
- Queries input by a user within a defined time range (e.g., 30 minutes),
- A misspelling relationship,
- A numerical relationship,
- A mathematical relationship,
- A translation relationship,
- A synonym, antonym, or acronym relationship, or other human-conceived or human-designated association, and;
- Any computer- or algorithm-determined relationship.
If you’ve performed a few searches on Google, you may have noticed a message at the top left of your search results that tells you that your results are, “Customized based on recent search activity.” Following a “More Details” link next to that statement might tell you which previous query influenced the results that you see. When I followed an example from the patent, and searched for “infinity auto,” and then followed it up with a search for “infiniti,” I received a message that, ”
The following information was used to improve your search results for infiniti:
Recent Searches You or someone else recently searched for infinity auto using this browser.
A “learn more” link from that message told me that:
Recent searches: We take into account whether a particular query followed on the heels of another query. Because recent search activity provides valuable context for understanding the meaning behind your searches, we use it to customize your results whenever possible, regardless of whether you’re signed in or signed out.
In order to customize your results and show you the customization details, we keep recent searches in a cookie on your browser for approximately 30 minutes. After approximately 30 minutes, this cookie is removed from your browser. Completely closing your browser will remove this cookie immediately.
We don’t know for certain if this patent provides us with details of how this “related query” process works at present. It’s been more than five years since the patent was originally filed. But, it is interesting to think about how queries might be related, and how those relationships might influence the search results that you might see when you perform a search.