Search for “cheap cars” at Yahoo in the future, and you might see web search results and paid search results for terms like “job searches” or “bicycles” in the future, according to a recently published Yahoo patent application.
If you’ve been keeping a close eye on Google search results lately, you’ve possibly noticed that sometimes when you perform a search at Google that the search engine might broaden the search results that you see to include synonyms for one or more of the terms that you used for your search.
I wrote a post about that, Google Synonyms Update, in which I pointed to a couple of patent filings that Google made which described a couple of different ways that Google might come up with synonyms for search terms. In the comments section of the post, a couple of people asked what kind of implications this query expansion might have for sponsored search results.
The Google patents on synonyms were quiet on paid search, and what the patent filings might mean for them, but chances are that if Google expanded a search to include synonyms, that it might choose between sponsored ads for the original query and the additional query terms.
For example, a search for [Ft Worth web design] might be expanded to include search results for [Fort Worth web design], and sponsored ads shown in that search result might be shown for both the “ft. worth” search and the “fort worth” search.
Google told us in an Official Google Blog post about this new inclusion of synonyms that they would highlight the synonyms in search results. Would they also highlight the synonyms in sponsored ads, if those appear there?
I just did a search for [ft. worth web design], and it appears that they do highlight synonyms when they appear in paid search results, like in the following image where the term “Fort Worth” is highlighted in the top sponsored search section with the yellow background:
Is the term highlighted because Google is showing a choice of advertisements for either [Fort Worth web design] or [Ft Worth web design], after expanding the organic web search results?
Interestingly, Yahoo just published a patent application that explores some similar territory, on expanding search results to include documents that might include words that are synonyms when used in a particular context. The Yahoo patent also looks at user data to decide when to show pages that might involve much broader related concepts as well.
Also interesting is that the inventors listed on the Yahoo patent filing have worked on the paid, or sponsored side of search for Yahoo in the past, and the patent filing explicitly includes paid search results.
The patent application is:
Predicting Selection Rates of a Document Using Click-Based Translation Dictionaries
Invented by Rukmini Iyer and Hema Raghavan
Assigned to Yahoo
US Patent Application 20100017262
Published January 21, 2010
Filed: July 18, 2008
The following paragraph from the patent filing gives us a hint at how Yahoo may broaden the search results they see beyond the methods that Google has described in their synonym patent applications:
In an embodiment, although claimed subject matter is not limited in this respect, a method includes automatically constructing probabilistic translation dictionaries from click-through information. Such translation dictionaries may include a database and/or data tables, for example. Translation dictionaries may include word synonyms as well as words and/or phrases that include one or more meanings that may be related to other words and/or phrases.
For example, a translation dictionary may include the phrase “cheap cars”, which may be related to other words or phrases that likely have a meaning corresponding to inexpensive automobiles, such as “used cars”, “compact cars”, “Kia”, “Hyundai”, and so on.
Continuing with the example, such a translation dictionary may also relate “cheap cars” to “job searches” or “bicycles”, since a user entering the query “cheap cars” may be unemployed, and interested in finding a job. Or such a user may have little money so that a bicycle may offer a good alternative to a car. Constructing such translation dictionaries will be described in detail below.
While click-through information may be one source of data from searchers that Yahoo might use, it’s possible that they might look at other information about interactions between searchers and the search engine. While the above paragraph refers to a “translation dictionary,” the Yahoo patent also describes something they call a “probabilistic model” that sounds, in some ways, like the statisical language models that Google referred to in their patents.
That model attempts to predict the probability that someone will choose a certain page, or ad, or other kind of result based upon past search result selections or click-through-rates of ads, and show results and advertising that match those predictions.
When Google or Yahoo expand query results to include synonyms for words in an original query, it appears that they may also consider doing so for the advertisements that are shown with those results.
And Yahoo may even help you find a bicycle, when you can’t afford a car.