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.
The patent application is:
Methods and Apparatus for Serving Relevant Advertisements
Invented by Jeffrey A. Dean, Georges R. Harik, and Paul Bucheit
US Patent Application 20120173334
Published July 5, 2012
Filed: March 15, 2012
The relevance of advertisements to a user’s interests is improved. In one implementation, the content of a web page is analyzed to determine a list of one or more topics associated with that web page. An advertisement is considered to be relevant to that web page if it is associated with keywords belonging to the list of one or more topics.
One or more of these relevant advertisements may be provided for rendering in conjunction with the web page or related web pages.
While this patent focuses upon Adsense and search engine marketing,it does potentially have lessons for SEO on how pages might be classified for other purposes as well.
Here are a number of ways that Google might classify pages to decide which ads to show on them:
Ways that Pages May be Categorized
1. Every term on a page could be identified as a possible topic.
2. A threshold-based approach might be used so that if a term appears more than a certain number of times, it could be a topic for the page
3. Terms that appear more frequently on a page than other terms that appear less frequently might be given a higher weight.
4. Terms from the page that don’t appear very frequently on the Web might be given a higher weight than terms that appear more frequently on the Web. For example, the word “the” appears very frequently on the Web, while the word “chianti” appears much less frequently. If both “the” and “chianti” appear on the same page, the word “chianti” may be given a higher weight as a potential topic for the page.
5. Using any weighting approach for assigning weight to text found on a page, only the top scoring terms might be considered as topics for the page.
6. Anchor text pointing to a page might be used to find a category for a page. A page which is linked to with the anchor text “Travels in Italy” might be seen as about traveling in Italy.
7. The title of a page might be considered to be an indication of the topic the page covers.
8. If a page on a certain topic links to the page being classified, that link might be an indication that the pages are similar to one another and the topic for the first page might be used for the second page.
9. A top number (1,4,10) number of queries that a page ranks for in search results might be used as the topic for that page.
10. The topics of pages that are related in ways such as sharing the same directory might be assigned to the page being targeted.
11. The search query history of users who visit the page might be used to identify a topic for the page. For example, if someone searches for “italian wine,” and in the same search query session visits a page about “Travels in Italy,” the topic of that page being visited might be used to determine that “italian” and/or “wine” are potential topics for the “Travels in Italy” page.
It’s possible that a number of the approaches in this patent filing might be used together to come up with topics or categories for pages. For example, the number of links pointing to a page might be pretty sparse or almost non-existent, or not very descriptive (like “click here”), and may not be helpful in determining a category for a page.
Or the words that appear most frequently on a page might tend to be stop words such as “the,” or “a,” or “this,” and just wouldn’t be very descriptive or helpful as topics.
Some sites don’t do a very good job of having descriptive titles for pages, and may have the same title on every page, or extremely short titles, or extremely long and not very relevant titles.
A page selling fresh steaks might have a link to a merchant that sells wine, to give visitors a recommendation for a great meal. It’s a great use of a link, but the site selling steaks has a very different topic than the site selling wine. The topics of those pages aren’t similar enough to use the topic for the steak site for the wine site.
But if you look at many of these signals (and others that could possibly be used as well), and use them together to see how much they might be in agreement with each other, that could potentially provide an effective way to provide a topic or category for a page.
When a human being looks at a web page, they probably wouldn’t have too much difficulty deciding upon a category for most pages. A search engine needs to rely upon clues that it can decide upon mathematically.
What are you telling search engines about the categories of your pages when you decide upon page titles, anchor text pointed on pages, your choice of words on those pages, and the choices of words that you are trying to optimize those pages for?
Those decisions might impact not only the kinds of advertisements that Google might show on your pages if you run Adsense. They could potentially determine categories for your pages in Sitelinks to those pages, or even in categories that Google might show in search results.