On Relevance and Search Engines

Relevance matters to each of us on a daily basis. It enables us to focus upon the things that are important in our lives. It’s something that each of us learns about everyday, and have been since around the time that we first learned to crawl, but not necessarily consciously.

Relevance and Evidence

I first began purposefully studying relevance a number of years ago, but not to help websites show up in search engines. My introduction to relevance as something I needed to learn, and needed to learn well, came in law school, in classes like Evidence and Criminal and Civil Procedure. In Evidence, we spend the class learning about the rules of evidence. The test for relevance under the Federal Rules of Evidence is:

(a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and

(b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.

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How Google Might Determine Categories for Web Pages

Six years ago, Google started showing sitelinks for the top results for many queries. In a recent Google live experiment, Google started showing expanded sitelinks in search results with tabs above those sitelinks showing categories. These experimental results were written about last week by the team at SEO Consult, in the post Google’s New SERP Test: Tabular Mega Sitelinks.

In my last post, I asked the question Will Google Add Categories to Search Results, and Let You Edit Them? I didn’t anticipate Google testing categories within their presentation of sitelinks though. I did notice an interesting new version of an older Google patent published as a pending patent application on categories for AdSense-type advertisements.

The continuation patent filing had a fresh new claims section that detailed how Google might interpret the categories of pages for purposes of showing AdSense advertisements. That process might not be the exact method that Google might classify pages into categories for purposes of sitelinks, or even for the explicit categories that Google could potentially show in search results to enable searchers to limit the results of their queries based upon clicking on those categories. But it does show some possibilities of how Google might classify pages.

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Will Google Add Categories to Search Results, and Let You Edit Them?

Last week, I wrote a post on the Webimax blog about an approach that Google might take in response to the fact that there are often so many results in response to a particular query. The post, How Google May Re-Rank Search Results Based the Context of What You Click, described how Google might re-rank your search results for related followup queries within the same search session. Search for [jaguar] and choose a result related to the Jacksonville football team, and Google might boost results related to the football team or sports in general in your search results within the same search session.

Google might try to use a “Contextual Click Model” like I described in that post, to try to identify related sites within sets of search results. They would do that by looking at its search query log files for search sessions from multiple searchers to cluster those clicks into related categories.

There are other ways that Google might potentially categorize documents that show up in search results. One place that they might look at is knowledge base information tied to search query log information, to create some categories. For example a search for [jaguar] on Wikipedia shows a number of possible topics, including the car, the cat, a band from Iceland, the Jacksonville football team, a Formula One racing team, an Atari game console, a type of Fender guitar, and many others.

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