Google’s Show More Results (Plusbox) Patent

Back on August 20th of 2010, Google Software Engineer Samarth Keshava published a post titled Showing more results from a domain, telling us:

Today we’ve launched a change to our ranking algorithm that will make it much easier for users to find a large number of results from a single site. For queries that indicate a strong user interest in a particular domain, like [exhibitions at amnh], we’ll now show more results from the relevant site.

The example provided in the post showed seven results from the same museum on a search for exhibits at that museum. He goes on to tell us that in the past, Google would have likely only shown two results from the same domain. In May of 2009, I wrote a post which described when and why Google might show more than two results from the same domain in search results.

My post, Boosting Brands, Businesses, and Other Entities: How a Search Engine Might Assume a Query Implies a Site Search, pointed at a Google patent Query rewriting with entity detection which described when Google might decide to show a number of search results from the same site. The assumption behind that patent was that the intent behind some queries was not so much a request to search the Web for information, but rather was a desire to see specific information from a site closely related to a “named entity” included in the query.

For example, if you perform a search at Google for [seo by the sea entities], Google associates the phrase “seo by the sea” with this site, and will perform a site search on http://www.seobythesea.com to find pages where the word “entities” appears:

Search results from Google on a search for [seo by the sea entities] where the first 8 results are from the seobythesea.com domain

Back when search engines only showed 2 results in a row from the same domain in search results, the second of those was often displayed as an indented result below the first one. That practice was known as Domain Collapsing.

While search engines strive to show search results in an order based upon a combination of relevance and quality/importance, sometimes when multiple pages from the same site appeared in results, the second result might be moved up to appear indented under the first result to make it easier for searchers to see that there was more than one relevant page for a query from the same site.

Google hasn’t and still doesn’t always move results from the same page up to “collapse” results from the same domain in search results. But you may notice that for some queries, Google will now show two results from the same page, followed by a line starting with a plus sign, and then a phrase like “Show more results from seobythesea.com”

A patent application published today, with Samarth Keshava, whom I quoted above, listed as one of the inventors, describes that plusbox feature. The patent is:

Search Result Plusbox Including Restricted Results
Inventors: Matias Pelenur, Samarth Keshava and Jeremy Silber
US Patent Application 20110016108
Published January 20, 2011
Filed: July 19, 2010

Abstract

Systems, methods and computer program products for generating initial search results based on a search query and additional search results using a control element are described. The control element, when activated by a user of a client device, may execute a call to a server which fetches the additional results to the client device.

Alternatively, the additional results may be pre-populated and displayed only when the control element is activated. In some implementations, the additional results may include results that are from the same source as the initial search results.

The patent filing provides a lot of technical details behind the “more results” plusbox, including the fact that the additional results may be located in the initial search, and hidden by the plusbox control until a searcher clicks upon the plusbox link, at which point the search engine uses AJAX to present the additional results so that the search page doesn’t need to be refreshed.

One of the most interesting aspects behind the patent application is the area where it tells us how many additional results might be seen, and why we see the additional results we do.

In the Google search results screenshot below, on a search for [bill slawski local], it appears that Google recognized my name as an “entity” and associated it with seobythesea.com, showing 4 original results as if it were conducting a site search for the term [local] on the site.

Google then included a plusbox with additional results that it felt were relevant for the term [local], which I clicked upon to get the image below. What might determine which additional results are shown when you click upon that plusbox?

Google search results on a search for [bill slawski local] showing 4 results at the top, and an expanded plusbox with 5 additional results.

The patent tells us that Google might show 2 or more additional results.

Factors behind how many additional results we see when we click on the plusbox link can include:

A Quality Threshold – The additional results have to meet some quality threshold, based upon something like the number or percentage of keywords within each result matching the search terms in a searcher’s original query. In my [bill slawski local] example above, each of the additional pages include the word “local” but not a large number or high percentage.

Display criteria – It’s possible that if you’re connected to the Web using a desktop computer with a large screen, you may be shown more “additional” results than if you’re using a handheld device during your search. The patent tells us that ten additional results might be possible on a big screen, while 2-5 may be more likely on a mobile phone.

A Reasonable Limit of additional results might be displayed, in order to not “overwhelm” a searcher. When there are potentially a large number of additional results that might fit the search in question, Google might add another link at the bottom of those results, like in the image above, to “Show all results from seobythesea.com.”

Ranked Results – While this factor may seem similar to the “quality threshold” that I mentioned as the first factor, it could look at more than an exact matching of keywords used in the query, to include methods that include fuzzy logic, grammar rules or other processes. So, in my example above, in addition to looking for the use of the word “local” on possible additional pages, Google might search for variations of the word “local” as well.

User Profile Information – The number and ranking of the additional results shown might depend upon information found on a profile for the searcher. As the patent filing tells us, “if the user’s profile includes information indicating that the user is an Economist, the ranking system may rank an article on economic credit crisis higher than an article on university research funding.” Other profile information might include the searcher’s “gender, age, income, occupation, geographic location and interests.”

Conclusion

I don’t really like seeing the first page of a set of search results filled with pages from the same web site.

When Google shows a large number of results from the same domain, the assumption the search engine is following is that the searcher’s intent was perform a site search. While this may be helpful to searchers who aren’t familiar with Google’s “site:” search operator which lets you perform searches on a single domain, it can also create the appearance that Google is favoring some sites over others – especially sites with strong brands that are associated with those websites.

Personally, I’d rather see only two results from the same domain with a plusbox below those if there are additional relevant results from that domain.

Even searchers who haven’t used a “site:” search, and possibly won’t, shouldn’t have any trouble clicking upon a link that tells them that there are more results from the same domain.

I also wouldn’t have guessed at the possibility that the number of additional results, and the results shown could possibly vary based upon the kind of device you’re using to connect to the Web, and be influenced by personalization factors. That’s good to know.

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19 thoughts on “Google’s Show More Results (Plusbox) Patent”

  1. I see exactly the same problem when it comes to strong brands and keyword domains. What I do not see is this feature providing a better user experience. Honestly, I am not to glad about the recent “features” that google added to the search (like instant and preview, for instance).

  2. I’ve also noticed that if you increase the number of results to be returned (say from 10 to 100) you have a greater chance of getting “Show More Result” appearing, or existing ones having more entries.

    I would guess this is related to the threshold or required rank dropping so Google can get those extra results.

  3. Hi Pascal,

    I think the “show more results” plusbox is a better approach than showing more than a couple of results from the same domain. It’s overkill.

    Interestingly, at least a couple of the inventors behind this patent were also involved with Google Instant Preview. Matias Pelenur is/was on the Google Instant Preview team, and he wrote a detailed blog post about it when it first came out:

    Instant Previews: Under the hood

    Jeremy Silber is the Tech Lead for Google’s Web Search Features, and he’s the one who introduced Google Instant Preview on the Google Webmaster Central Blog: Instant Previews

  4. Hi Tiggerito,

    Good catch.

    With the indented results with domain collapsing approach, if you increased the number of results, you were more likely to see more indented results as well.

  5. Hi Bill,

    I actually notice these collapsed results quite often, even in a non-branded context, without the mention of any domain in the search query.

    What Google is doing here is by far more, than gathering “all you can eat” about any brand- or domain-specific context – it really is more a sign for a STRONG authority of the displayed “plus”-domain in the context of a specific search phrase:

    Have a look:
    http://bit.ly/fZJOpq
    (Google.de – i hope it works out for you)

    Greetings!

  6. Hi Sebastian,

    There could be a few different things going on that might cause a specific site to have multiple results and a plusbox. The patent tells us near the start of its description:

    [0004]Traditional search engines can struggle when deciding between providing users with a greater number of results from a single, highly relevant website (result quality) and providing users with diversified results from various web sites (result diversity). To overcome this technical challenge, traditional search engines limits the display of the results from a particular host or domain. Searchers wishing to drill down into a particular web site use a site restriction option and conduct a follow on search to focus a specific search within that web site.

    So, according to that statement, some sites may just be highly relevant and have more than one page that ranks very well for a specific query, with no domain mentioned in the query itself, and there’s a chance that a plusbox might appear for that site.

    There are potentially other possibilities as well, though. For instance, in the screenshot above using my name in the query, it’s possible that Google has identified my name as a “named entity” associated with seobythesea.com, and is showing multiple results because of that association, above the plusbox.

    You’ve led me to a hypothesis that might be worth testing – it seems at this point, that if you see two results from the same domain and then a plusbox, it’s more likely because the site listed is considered by Google to be highly relevant for the query. If you see more than two results and then a plusbox, the search engine may have made an association between an entity included in the query and the website listed.

  7. It’s funny you would bring this up Bill, because I have been noticing the same thing in the search engine results like you have illustrated in this post.

    I’m with you Bill. I don’t want to see the first page of the search results filled with pages from the same site. I think Google is trying out some things and I’m sure they will eventually recognize that searchers are usually not trying to perform a site search.

  8. Same here, I don’t get the point about showing off many results from the same site.
    From a SEO perspective, it’s an easy way out if you care about e-reputation & Co., but from a user standpoint, I just don’t get it. It’s just not useful, which is the main goal of a search engine.

  9. I agree. I don’t believe that this helps to make searching better for the user. The point of a search is to bring up many results, not just one.

  10. @all

    Actually i don’t think, that Google will display PlusBox Results (with 2 x links on top) dedicated to “mainstream content” or “money keywords”.

    In most cases i have seen results simlilar to the one i posted above in the bit.ly Link, only dedicated to quite abstract keywords.

    In these cases – like the 2 x links and the + Link to my blog for the german keyword phrase “google places optimieren” on Google.DE – the displayed domains really “earned” the SERP real estate because of pure quality which then resulted in SERP domination for the given keyword phrase…

    Why not lettting Google guide the user to really worthful content this way?

  11. Hi John,

    There have been a number of changes to how search results are being presented to searchers lately, and it’s not surprising that the search engines are experimentingwith things like Google Instant, Google Instant Previews, extended numbers of search results from the same domain, “show more” plusboxes, and more.

    Sometimes, people may be trying to do a site search, but it may be better to offer them something like this more results plusbox than just showing a front page of search results that are mostly filled with results from the same page. Especially if Google is going to give me an estimate of millions of pages that are relevant to the search that I just performed.

  12. Hi Laurent,

    It seems like a tough choice to make for the search engines. Imagine that one site has many pages that seem to be much more relevant for a query than any of the other results. As a search engine, do you sacrifice diversity of offerings from different domains to show those very relevant pages?

    I’d rather be offered more sources, even in that instance. But, an argument could be made that when one site offers multiple pages that are considerably more relevant than any other pages on different domains, that’s not a bad result for searchers as well.

  13. Hi Genna,

    This problem is an illustration of a larger problem that search engines face. It’s often referred to as a precision versus recall problem. The search engines want to present the most relevant and important pages as possible for a query (precision), and they want to provide as many pages as possible that might be relevant and important (recall). If a search engines focuses upon returning really precise results, they might not show as many results. If they focus upon returning as many results as possible, those results might not be too precise. So the search engines attempt to focus upon providing some kind of balance between the two.

  14. Hi Sebastian,

    Google does likely treat queries that are classified in different ways with different algorithms.

    For instance, even in a situation where a query term that is very popular and competitive and may return results that are associated with expensive and competitive advertising, if the query includes a named entity that’s associated with a specific website, Google might show multiple results (or a plusbox result) for that page anyway.

  15. If it is done right, I think this does add value for search users. Why limit good quality content if it is correctly matched to the user search? I think of it more as a strength of page rather than a strength of the entire site. One sub page from m site may be a better match that the main page of a different site. To me, that is better for the user.

  16. Hi SteveF,

    I agree with you, but I’m not sure which way might be the best way to do it.

    If a site has multiple results that are better matches for a query than pages from other sites, then it may be better for the user to be shown those pages in search results. The question is, though, is it better for the search engine to return a good number of results from the same domain on the front page of those results, or to only show the first two, and then a plus box with more from that domain?

    Is one approach better for searchers than the other?

  17. I think we are looking at a double edged sword. The value for the search users is the good quality content, however I personally believe its overload.

    when conducting a search I’d prefer the plus box. I find as long as the info is relevant and of good quality its better to cite as many of those reputable sources as possible.

    This could also be seen as an attempt to drive up clicks deeper into search results, in an attempt to increase ad revenue, or?

  18. Hi Daniel,

    An effective search engine is one that helps you find what you’re looking for as quickly as possible, even if it means that you don’t spend much time there and you don’t see lots of ads. Ideally, if the search engine is good at doing that, you’ll keep on coming back and performing more searches.

    If you have a hard time finding good results, you might start turning to other places to find information. Instead of going to Google to find information about movies, for instance, you might go to IMDB.com.

    I’d rather see less results from the same site, and have the plusbox appear in case I want to explore what’s offered on that site as well. If a searcher intended to see results from just one site, it gives them the chance to click on that link to see more results from the same site. But, if Google shows 6 or 7 results from the same site in their results, and the searcher is looking for a diversity of sites to find information on a topic, then that isn’t a good user experience. But I’m not sure that I would go so far as to say that it’s an attempt to get searchers to click on more sponsored links.

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