Google has come under fire the last year or so from critics who claim that the search engine has been providing too many pages from some of the same domains in search results. It appears that this has had them looking at ways that they could provide more diversity within those results. A patent granted to Google earlier this year describes one approach that could have an impact on both local search rankings and Web rankings for authority pages for business entities.
The impact of this approach would be that when these authority pages ranked highly in both Web results and local search results, Google might merge listings for the two, so that the Web search result no longer appears within search results for a specific query and the local search result is potentially boosted higher in results as well.
In the past, I’ve written about How Google Universal Search and Blended Results May Work, describing how Google might decide when and where to include multiple listings within Web search results from different vertical search types, such as local results, images, news articles, videos, and others. Each of these different types of results might be ranked based upon their relevance to a query, and might be included within results based upon how meaningful those results might be to the query and the intent of a searcher.
Under this new approach, Google might look for the same page ranking highly in Web search results and local search results when those pages are authority results with the second search results. As authority results for a specific business entity, these are the pages that have been chosen to be associated with the business entity when it is displayed in local results. The authority page of the business entity is the homepage of the business entity. If an authority page ranks highly in both web results and local search results, that URL may be merged so that it only appears one time in the search result as a local listing.
The patent tells us that this might happen when the local search result ranks above a certain relevance threshold for the query, and possibly based upon the distance of a searcher to the location involved, with a searcher’s distance from the business entity as a factor as well. These combine results might then appear before other results in response to a query.
We are given two “advantages” from Google following this approach. The first is that we receive a more diverse set of pages in response to a query. The second is that the overall quality of results is improved.
The patent is:
Merging search results
Invented by Rasika S. Kumar, James R. Muller, Jacqueline Frances Bavaro, Jack Menzel, Amit Singhal, and Eugene Nudelman
Assigned to Google
US Patent 8,392,394
Granted March 5, 2013
Filed: May 4, 2010
Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for merging search results. In one aspect, a method combines search results responsive to a query that are obtained from a local search engine and a universal search engine such that the combined search results are ordered and presented in a way that emphasizes certain business entities in the results.
Why Show the Local Result?
The way that local results are displayed in Google means that in addition to including a direct link to the authority page (home page) for the business, a local listing also provides information that a searcher can use to compare the most highly ranked local listings, including such things as user ratings for the business, prices, locations, categories of businesses, and others.
The merged results are referred to in the patent as “combined local results”, and the listing of results as local results might be reordered when they are displayed based upon the original ranking of each result in Web results in respose to a query.
Where local search results are displayed within web results may depend upon the relevance and quality of both the local results and the web results. If there are a lot of authority pages at the top of the web results, then the combined local results may be placed at the top of the rankings:
For example, if the highest ranked universal search result does not refer to an authority page or two out of the top three universal search results do not refer to authority pages, the re-ordered local results are inserted after the third highest ranked universal search result. Otherwise, the re-ordered local results are inserted before the highest ranked universal search result. In further implementations, if the highest ranked universal search results refer to different business entities, the re-ordered local results are inserted before them.
In further implementations, the insertion position can be determined based on a comparison of the overall quality of the local results as compared to the quality of the web results where the higher quality results are placed before the others. Other ways of determining the insertion position are possible.
Imagine that you had a page that was returned in both local search listings and organic Web results in response to a query. The organic web result might have been in the top twenty rankings for the query, and may have been the home page or main URL for the domain, and could be said to be the authority page for the business. Under this patent, the organic web result might disappear, by being merged or combined with the local search result. It might also then rank higher in those local results, and the local results might move higher within the combined Web results as well.
More results from more domains are shown to searchers this way, and pages that rank well for both local and web search may also be shown higher.