Earlier this month I wrote about a granted Google patent, and a continuation of that patent filed earlier this year, that describe How Google Might Suggest Topics for You to Write About, by providing information to web publishers on queries and topics that are either under-represented in search results or where there’s more demand for information about those topics or queries than there are search results to meet that demand.
The topic struck home with a number of people, especially journalists, and I had a chance to have a conversion with Financial Times (FT.com) reporter Kenneth Li about Google’s patents. The Financial Times ran with two different stories on the topic (Google shadow over new media groups, and Google eyes Demand Media’s way with words), focusing primarily on how the technology involved in the patents could bring Google into competition with companies such as Demand Media, Associated Content, and AOL.
While searching through patent filings this morning, I came across an interesting newly published patent application from Demand Media. In the FT.com article on Demand Media, we’re told that:
Demand’s secret ingredient is a set of algorithms that analyses search engine data and traffic logs for topics to identify keywords for which advertisers are likely to pay.
The new patent filing may just give us a glimpse at some of the algorithms that are used to identify keywords selected that Demand Media might use on sites like eHow and Youtube.
The patent application is:
Method and System for Ranking of Keywords for Profitability
Invented by Byron William Reese
Assigned to Demand Media, Inc.
US Patent Application 20100153391
Published June 17, 2010
Filed December 17, 2008
A physical computing device receives information regarding a total number of people who are searching on the search term. Information is received regarding an amount advertisers pay for the search term. Information is received regarding a click through rate of the search term. A traffic estimate of the search term is determined. Longevity of the search term is determined.
What’s interesting about it is that many of the factors that are used to identify keywords are the kind of signals that people performing SEO and Internet Marketing are also likely to use as well.
The patent filing goes into a fair amount of detail on which factors they might consider to determine how profitable specific keyword phrases might be, such as:
Many of the processes described in the patent filing make some sense in determining idea keywords to target, though there are some interesting assumptions made about a few of the factors involved, such as competitiveness.
For instance, we’re told that Alexa ranking numbers might be viewed for websites that appear for certain queries, as part of the process to gauge competitiveness.
There may be a couple of issues with using that approach. One is that Alexa rankings are taken from tracking self-selected toolbar users, and those rankings can widely misrepresent how popular a site might be. Another is that the rankings of pages for particular terms and phrases at the major search engines is based upon a mix of how relevant and how important a page might be for a particular term, with the possibility of additional filters and reranking methods boosting the rankings of some pages. An Alexa ranking isn’t a very good indication of how well a particular page might rank for a particular term.
Another generalization in the patent is that shorter words are more competitive than longer words. If that were true, then it would be much harder to compete to rank well for a word like “xeric” than it would be to rank highly for “ice cream.” An additional one states that keyword phrases with one or two words are more competitive than search terms with more than two words. While that may often be true, it isn’t always and there are ways to gauge that competitiveness that go beyond such an assumption. I would never draw that conclusion in comparing terms without doing more actual research.
The processes described in the patent filing to determine the potential profitability of a keyword for drawing search traffic have some similarities with how someone doing SEO might perform keyword research to find words for a particular site. Though an SEO would try to identify keyword phrases that are both more likely to be used in a search by the audience members for that site, and which those audience members might expect to see on the pages of that site.
It’s possible that Demand Media uses either additional factors or other factors to determine which keyword terms to target when creating content to attract advertisers and people to view those advertisements, but the patent filing does provide a glimpse at some of the approaches that the digital media company may take in identifying terms to target.