Google How To Snippets and Cooking with Semantics


Google recently started showing “How to” lists in search results, which tend to show the first few steps of some task, and then let you click through to a page to see more. Like the recipes above for things like guacamole:

 By Nikodem Nijaki (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Nikodem Nijaki (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

They have also published an interesting paper that describes some of the steps that need to take place for one of these snippets to be created, which is titled Cooking with Semantics (pdf).

Like in yesterday’s post on Rich Snippets and Patterned Queries, I’m interested in the queries used to find these unique results, and if there is a specialized shape or format or pattern that a query needs to be in to return “How To” results (much like a definition result tends to be returned when you start a query off with “define:xxxxxxxxxx” or “what is xxxxxxxxx”.

I tried a number of queries to see if I could get a “How To” list in response, and did for a number.

Some quick conclusions:

(1) It’s interesting that not all of the pages being returned are from nonprofit sites like Wikipedia, but some are from more commercial sites such as pepboys and and Mccormicks, which shows a possibility that results like these could be taken from most types of websites instead of a limited number of sites that might be considered to be a knowledge base like Wikipedia.

(2) The formats of the results shown vary from one result to another, with some being lists and others being paragraphs.

(3) In the list format results, the words in the How To snippets matching query terms aren’t bolded, but words within the queries in the paragraph descriptions are. So lists on pages may be treated differently than textual passages.

(4) On one of the Wikipedia results, part of the “how to” is taken from an info box on the page, and part of it is taken from prose on the page. In the other one, the whole “how-to” is taken from prose.

I’ve made each “How To” snippet below clickable to go to the page where the result is from so that you can look to see where the text in the snippet appears on each page. We’re probably going to do some investigation to see if we can identify some patterns in queries used, beside most of the ones that I’ve listed starting with “How To”, and some patterns in the way that text on search results pages are presented.


How to Play Marco Polo Results

How to Play Chess Results

How to Tie a Shoelace Results

How to Make an old fashioned results

How to Make a Manhattan Results

If you see any other patterns worth mentioning in queries or in how search results are presented , let me know. :)

7 thoughts on “Google How To Snippets and Cooking with Semantics”

  1. Hi Patrick,

    The “Cooking with Semantics” paper describes the difficulties with finding instruction type (How-to) language that might fit easily into patterns.

    This kind of snippet seems to be much more difficult than showing some starred ratings, a piece of a review, and maybe an address.

    I’ve been wanting to explore some of these to see if I can find some patterns, like the one above showing no bolding in instructional lists, and yet showing bolding in prose passages.

    I’ve seen a few lists that were really bad, but look like they were shown because they were in list format. It’s probably worth getting screen shots of those, and doing a part two, or as I might call it, a “How Not To” set of snippets.

  2. This is one area I ignored and have found out that any kind of duplication on either the old google maps or google places will get you slapped.

    Will be taking some worthy advice from here today.


  3. Hi Hortense,

    Thanks for the example here. The video option is interesting.

    I am wondering which, if any, Google might prefer:

    (1) a step-by-step list,

    (2) a paragraph or two of prose, or

    (3) a video,

    Danny Sullivan has taken to calling answers to questions like this the name “direct answers,” I guess as opposed to an answer that sends a searcher to another page for a direct answer. Not sure if I like that or not.

  4. Absolutely great post here. Thanks for sharing bill. I’ll subscribe this site. Because a lot of things that I don’t know, and I would learn from your write. Thanks a lot.

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