Usually, when you click on a link in a set of search results at Google, the search engine will deliver you to the top of a web page. But what if it didn’t? What if it brought you instead to the place on a page where your query terms appeared, or just above those words?
For example, say you searched for [pizza 94043], and the page appearing at the top of Google’s search results included a list of pizza places, including one pizzeria at that zip code halfway down the page. How would you feel if when you arrived at the page, your browser brought you to the part of the page where that pizza place showed up?
A patent application published today from Google explores how the search engine might insert artificial anchors into pages, to deliver searchers to destinations within web pages, pdf files, word files, spreadsheets, and other documents, rather than just to the tops of those documents.
Below the Fold Design Implications?
How might you feel about visitors arriving at the middle or the bottom of web pages from search engines if you design web pages, and are concerned about the appearance of pages, and what viewers see when they visit your pages?
An old newspaper term, that many have applied to web pages, is the phrase “above the fold,” which describes the part of a newspaper that you might see before you purchase it in a coin-operated newsrack or on a store shelf. Many designers often refer to the top part of a web page that viewers first see when they arrive at that page as being “above the fold,” and attempt to provide important information in that viewing area.
With large web pages, many designers may strive to have the area “above the fold” render more quickly so that visitors don’t have to wait to see that content when they first arrive at a page. An example are the pages at Amazon.com, which can often be fairly large pages, but the top parts of those pages tend to load quickly so that visitors don’t have to wait to see the content above the fold.
Would you design pages differently if search engines starting delivering visitors below the fold?
Named Anchors Could Be Used Too
Some pages, such as Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) pages, often list a set of questions at the tops of those pages, and then provide links from each question to anchors on the same page where the answer appears. Those anchors are often referred to as “named anchors” because they have a name associated with them like this:
It’s possible that Google’s method could also deliver searchers to a named anchor when the answer shown at that named anchor contains the query terms searched for. Google has described how they might do this in an Official Google Webmaster Blog post in September in response to some queries – Using named anchors to identify sections on your pages, and they provide some tips on making it more likely to have links to your named anchors appear in search results.
But, the method described in the patent filing will work even if there aren’t named anchors like the kind you might find on a FAQ page:
With systems and methods described herein, mechanisms are provided to generate or simulate links with artificial named anchors and to allow the browser to recognize the artificial named anchor and navigate directly to the desired specific part of the target webpage even when the author of the webpage has not created a named anchor at the specific part of the webpage.
In particular, the systems and methods described herein simulate the general functionality of the named anchor and the HREF link to provide links containing artificial named anchors that allow navigation directly to a specific part of the target webpage even when a named anchor does not exist at the specific part of the target webpage.
Such links can be utilized by any webpage to provide a link to a specific part of another target webpage. In particular, such links containing artificial named anchors can be particularly useful for search result pages returned by search engines.
The patent application also mentions that it might highlight or bold the query terms in question to make them easier to find for a searcher. The patent is:
Artificial Anchor for a Document
Invented by David P. Marmaros, Benedict A.Gomes and Krishna Bharat
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20090287698
Published November 19, 2009
Filed July 24, 2009
Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer program products, for linking to an intra-document portion of a target document includes receiving an address for a target document identified by a search engine in response to a query, the target document including query-relevant text that identifies an intra-document portion of the target document, the intra-document portion including the query relevant text. An artificial anchor is generated, the artificial anchor corresponding to the intra-document portion. The artificial anchor is appended the address.
Snippets and Artificial Named Anchors?
Sometimes the description shown in a snippet in search results contains content from a meta description on a page, but it’s just as likely that a snippet may show text that actually appears on a page. We’re told in the patent that one place where searchers may be delivered to on a page is where the snippet has been taken from.
Unfortunately, that may not always be the place where many site owners want visitors to arrive, especially if the text from a snippet comes from something like user generated content after an article or blog post on a page, such as comments or reviews.
The patent filing also mentions that it may highlight the query text as shown on the page in some manner, with a formatting change that could be presented a number of different ways such as:
- Foreground and/or background color changing,
- Font and/or size changing,
- Border drawing,
- Text animating (e.g., “marching red ants”, etc.),
- Style editing/adding/removing.
We are also told in the patent that information from the target document might be changed in some way to add, remove, or edit relevant or irrelevant information, such as by:
- Altering or adding a link,
- Adding an image,
- Deleting surrounding aspects,
- Adding new text,
- Adding a popup or hover window,
Showing Visitors to Cached Copies of Pages?
The patent filing describes a number of different approaches to delivering visitors to sections of pages where the query terms they searched with appear on those pages, and one of the alternatives would have visitors arriving at the search engine’s cached copy of a page, scrolled down to the appropriate spot, rather than the page itself.
I could possibly see doing that when someone clicks on the “cache” link that often appears with search snippets, rather than visiting the page itself, but the patent filing doesn’t tell us that it would show a cached copy of a page only in that instance.
As a searcher, would you find being delivered to the middle of a page helpful if that’s where the terms that you searched for appeared? I know that I’ve sometimes had to use the search function on my browser to find the words I’ve searched for to find a web page.
As a designer or site owner, would it disturb you if visitors arrived at your pages below the fold? If the look and feel of your site was changed by the search engine to accent where query terms appear on the page? Or if your visitors ended up at Google’s cached copy of your page instead of on your site?