How Google Might Rank User Generated Web Content in Google + and Other Social Networks

One of the challenges that face search engines is how to rank content found on sites that rely upon users to create that content, often referred to as User Generated Content or UGC. Towards the end of 2009, I wrote a post about a Yahoo patent that described some of the things they might consider looking at when ranking UGC, in the post How Search Engines May Rank User Generated Content.

With Google’s recent launch of Google Plus, I’m anticipating posts and comments from their new social network system to start appearing in Google Web search results sometime soon.

A Google patent application published this past May at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) describes possible signals that Google might consider in its Web search results when it displays and ranks images and videos on photo and video sharing sites, questions and answers on Q&A sites, forum posts and responses, blog posts and comments, and social network posts, status updates, and comments. It was originally filed on October 29, 2009, but looks like it could be a system that could be used with Google + without too many modifications. The patent filing hasn’t been published yet at the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The system behind the patent filing would work with sites where people are required to log in using some kind of identification information before adding content, and where people can interact with each other by posting questions or other content, and people can respond. The interactions between people could be weighed, and credential scores for each user would be generated based upon those interactions. Quality factors could be weighed for comments or answers to posts and questions and other user-generated content. Interactions can involve submitting a post or comment, uploading content such as images or videos, rating something, or even viewing something that someone else has submitted.

Credential Scores for Users

The posts and questions and comments might show up in Google’s search results based upon how relevant they are to a query, and credential scores for the people who created them. These credential scores are a type of author rank, which would be based upon a combination of an authority score and a contributiveness score based upon interactions and weighting factors associated with interactions with others on a social network.

An Authority score would be based upon an analysis of the quality of responses that someone makes on a social networking site and the contributiveness scores of the people who posted that content.

Contributiveness scores would be based upon the quality of something that you post or upload to a social network and the authority scores of people who respond to that content.

There’s no telling if Google is using the processes from this patent filing at this point or if they will in the future, but it’s possible that they may use something similar. If this were to be applied to Google Circles, when you make a post, your contributiveness score would be based upon the authority scores of people who respond to that post. When you respond to a post, your authority score would be influenced by the quality of responses that you provide and the contributiveness of the people who originally posted the content that you are responding to.

We’re also told in the patent application that user credential scores and rankings based upon those scores might be different for different categories or labels associated with user generated content. Someone commenting or posting on gardening and also on SEO might have one credential score for gardening and a different one for SEO.

So where might Google get those categories or labels? In a forum setting, that might be the name of the particular forum you are posting in, such as an “internet marketing” section of a webmaster forum. If you’re commenting on a blog post, it might be the category or tags used on the original blog post.

The weights between each relationship or link between two members of a network might be based upon:

  • How relevant a response or comment might be from the first person to something that the second person posted,
  • How original a post or comment or piece of content submitted to the network might be compared to other content items,
  • How much “coverage” or broadening of a topic a piece of content might add to the network, based upon a measure of uncommon terms in the post or comment or reply,
  • How “rich” the content item might be, (Does it include multimedia or rich media content) or
  • The timeliness of a content item, such as a quick comment in response to a post, or a fast answer to a question.

A system like this might be used to:

  • Show posts or comments in search results,
  • Reward users for high quality input, or
  • Restrict access based on low quality contributions (and possibly consider them to be spammers).

This system might also be used to personalize search results by looking at the relationship strength between different users of one or more social networks and possibly boost relevant results in those search results based upon that relationship strength. So, if there’s someone whom you have quality interactions with on a social network on a regular basis, and you search for something in Google that they’ve written something relevant about, their result may appear higher than it otherwise would have because of those interactions.

The patent application is:

Ranking User Generated Web Content
Invented by: Xiance Si, Jian Gong Deng, Huacheng Ke, Dong Zhang, Zoltan I. Gyongyi, and Edward Y. Chang
Applicant: Google
Publication Number WO/2011/050495
Publication Date: May 5, 2011
International Filing Date: October 29, 2009

Abstract:

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on computer storage media, for analyzing quality of user-generated content involve identifying interactions between users through an electronic network and assigning a weighting factor to each interaction representing a quality of the interaction. A user credential score is generated for each user based on the weighting factors for each interaction. The user credential scores are stored in association with a user identifier on a computer-readable storage device.

Quality Values for Posts and Responses

The patent filing provides some examples of things that might be considered when the search engine analzes a post or content item to create a quality value.

For example, on an online discussion forum, an initial question or post would be analyzed to determine:

  • Its relevance to the forum topic,
  • Appropriateness of language (e.g., lack of profanity), and/or
  • Originality in relation to previously-posted questions.

If someone were to respond to the original post, the quality of their response might include looking at:

  • Its relevance to the question,
  • Appropriateness of language used (e.g., lack of profanity)
  • Specificity of response,
  • Originality in relation to previously-posted responses, or
  • Promptness in relation to the timestamp of the original posting of the question.

The quality of those posts and responses to them would be used to determine a quality of the interactions between people interacting, and if the participants were to be included in a user activity social graph, the strengths of the relationships or links between those individuals would be based upon the quality of the content that they’ve posted and responded to.

Credential Scoring

Some examples of how interactions can impact someone’s credential score:

  • Someone responds to a high quality question with a high quality answer, their interaction may positively impact their credential score.
  • Someone responds to a question with a low quality answer, their interaction may negatively impact their credential score.
  • If someone responds to a question posted by someone with a high credential score, their interaction may more positively impact their credential score than if they respond to someone with a low credential score.
  • If some posts a question, and they receive high quality responses from people with high credential scores, that interaction can positively impact the original posters credential score.

Conclusion

I could very easily see a Q&A site like Quora, or any number of forums using this system from the patent without many changes at all, and it would likely work well with Google + as well. It’s even possible that some aspects of it may be in use to display content from sites like Quora.

Chances are that Google may use something very similar in the future to help decide what posts or comments to display from Google Plus.

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52 thoughts on “How Google Might Rank User Generated Web Content in Google + and Other Social Networks”

  1. I hope we see Google use the authority of the people who interact with your Google+ content to determine the likelihood that the content ranks.

  2. I have always considered forums to be social networks. For this reason, I think that the forum “reputation” metric would be a great measure of post authority.

    In my experience, forum reputation fit authority VERY well in forums.

    Maybe they will use this.

    Mark

  3. As I read you post I basicaly don’t learnt anything new, but I assume it was not the point ! IMHO, the paper seems to reveal that Google have clears indications of social interactions between people with Google +. Think about Circle names, Plus one on web pages, SERPS results, plus one on post and comments and so on …

    Most importantly it also make me think that Google will pay close attention to what businesses do on google plus and how they interact with their markets.

    I am sure you will find answer to this question : Would Google take credit from a company that is active on G+ ? If they do, how do you think that it could be done ?

  4. So it’s basically an online credit score, although I think Facebook and Twitter are going to be challenges for establishing this kind of authority, especially because people use both for so many different reasons.

  5. Hi Nathan,

    The more I think about it, the more I think that Google might be using at least the social search aspect of what’s described in this patent filing to show us social search results when one of our “contacts” or “friends” may have written about something relevant to our searches.

  6. Hi Kentaro

    Facebook and Twitter might be challenging for an approach like this, but some other types of sites may be very good matches, including a large number of forums. Google Circles also seems to fit pretty well.

  7. Hi Alex,

    Ok, but I’m writing about a patent that Google published where they describe how they might analyze the quality of posts and comments and replies on social networks, look at the interactions between people, and assign credential scores to authors that could be used together with relevance scores to rank that user generated content in search results. Some of these things may seem obvious, and others possibly not so much, but that isn’t the point.

    The point is that we have actual information in the form of a patent filing from Google that they’ve explored certain concepts related to social networking and ranking.

    I’m not sure that I understand your question about google “taking credit” from companies that are active on G+.

    I suspect that a number of features related to business profiles on Google Plus will be similar to what is offered presently for individuals, though I suspect that some kind of verification might be put into place for businesses much like Google has now for Google Place pages.

  8. Hi there, Thanks for considering my comment and … sorry for my english !

    By taking credit I meant get a credential score ! I hope it will make sense now.

  9. Hi, I saw a very interesting post on SeoMoz about this matter and how +1 are clearly affecting search results, but still not as much as retweets. Would it be ok to link it or would I be Spamming?

  10. Google Plus has some very interesting features, now the question is how useful it is for social marketing. Thanks for the post, definitely cleared a few doubts here.

  11. Hi Henrik,

    It’s possible that not much benefit might come out of posting on a forum thread that’s filled with spam under the process described in the patent.

  12. Hi Alex,

    If Google sets things up in Google Plus so that businesses can interact with others in the network much like individuals can, then they might be able to have credential scores associated with them as well, based upon their interactions on the network.

  13. Hi David,

    There are a lot of people who are abusing social networks in the name of marketing, hopefully we won’t see too much of that in Google Plus. Social marketing should ideally be about building positive relationships with others, and there are tools there on Google Plus to enable people to do that. The real test though might be when Google allows people to create business accounts on Google Plus.

  14. I think that things won’t be the same after google+ and +1 concept. For sure +1 feature has influence on SERP position, but in the same time some new sources will get chance to bet some old domains now. It was main disadvantage of Google algorithm, that it is almost impossible for some new page to beat some old trustful domain for specific keyword, but it should be solve now. Users will help with +1 to new content to be competitive.

  15. Bill,

    It’s bound to happen sooner or later. Once Google+ goes public, you can pretty much expect the fail marketers to be spamming the living daylights out of it. It happened on MySpace, it happened on Facebook, it happened on Twitter and you can pretty much guess it will happen on Google+. It’s the sad state of our society that certain people have to resort to ruining good things for the rest of us.

  16. Is it going to be possible for competitors to mass spam your sight to lower your ranking? I see people finding a way to abuse this.

  17. Hi Dan,

    Google has been open to all for a day or two now. I’ve seen a few profiles that were sketchy looking, but so far so good. Hopefully Google will police Google Plus well, and avoid as much spam as possible. Fingers crossed.

  18. Hi Paul,

    The patent filing focuses upon how Google might determine a reputation based score for individuals providing user generated content in social sites like Q&A sites, microblogging services, and forums, to combine with a relevance score to decide how to rank content from those services in Google’s search results.

    It’s really silent on things like how much PageRank or anchor text relevancy might be passed along from those types of social services to pages, images, videos, etc., that might be linked to on those services, or if “spammy” links from those types of services might be useful in harming things linked to from those services.

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  20. Google+, and the +1 button, have some interesting ramifications. But, time is needed before Google social aspect takes the proportions of the giants like Facebook and Tweeter. I’ve seen pages with thousands of likes and re-tweets but 2 or 3 “+1″s.

  21. Hi Tommy,

    I’m not sure that Google needs to look solely at +1s to benefit from things like the number of mentions of a page or shares of posts containing a pages, and as Google Plus grows in membership, we’ll see more and more of those. And Google has more control over data associated with those since people need to have a Google Account to use Google Plus or a +1 button. While Google might see much less +1s, they know more about the people who left those +1s, and the things that they might be interesting in, and show some expertise on.

  22. Indeed Facebook has proven its worth and still working to be better… I hope Google Plus can accomplish that too.

  23. Hi Andrew,

    I think what we’ve seen of Google Plus is only the start, and that they have much more in the works for us in the future.

    I’ve heard rumors about games being incorporated into plus, and have seen a number of patent filings that suggest other features.

    We know that business profiles are coming from Google Plus in the future as well, and we may see Google Place Pages and reviews somehow incorporated into those.

  24. @Bill

    A few months on from your initial post, do you believe that Google are using data obtained by Google+ the +1 button, webmaster tools, etc. to distinguish primary or contributing authorities?

  25. Hi Terry,

    I think the possibility that they are is very real, either now or in the future, but nothing absolutely concrete that I can point to.

    Of course, that definitely seems like the intended purpose behind authorship markup, but it might be hard to tell if Google has started incorporating that kind of data into an analysis of whether or not a particular piece of content came for a specific source. I would definitely think that would be something that Google would work very hard upon getting right, immediately from the start, and doing so might be something they might not be able to do in a short period of time, or even in a few months.

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