Authoritative Search Results in Google Searches?

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A NASA Android that Voyaged to Space

authoritative search results

If you’ve done any SEO for a site, you may recognize some of the steps involved in working towards making a website authoritative:

  1. Conduct keyword research to find appropriate terms and phrases for your industry and audience
  2. Review the use of keywords on the pages of your site to make sure it includes those in prominent places on those pages
  3. Map out pages on a site to place keywords in meaningful places
  4. The meaningful places on your pages are determined by information retrieval scores for HTML elements such as Titles and Headings and Lists
  5. The placement of keywords in prominent and important places on your pages can make your pages more relevant for those keywords
  6. Research the topics your pages are about, and make sure they answer questions that your audience may have about those topics in trustworthy and meaningful ways

Surfacing Authoritative Search Results for Queries Above a Threshold

A patent granted to Google this week focuses upon authoritative search results. It describes how Google might surface authoritative results for queries and for query revisions when there might not results that meet a threshold of authoritativeness for the initial query. Reading through it was like looking at a mirror image of the efforts I usually go through to try to build authoritative results for a search engine to surface. In addition to using some of the same language that I use to describe how I build authoritative pages, the patent also defines what an authoritative site is for us in terms that I might find myself using too:

In general, an authoritative site is a site that the search system has determined to include particularly trusted, accurate, or reliable content. The search system can distinguish authoritative sites from low-quality sites that include resources with shallow content or that frequently include spam advertisements. Whether the search system considers a site to be authoritative will typically be query-dependent. For example, the search system can consider the site for the Centers for Disease Control, “cdc.gov,” to be an authoritative site for the query “cdc mosquito stop bites,” but may not consider the same site to be authoritative for the query “restaurant recommendations”. A search result that identifies a resource on a site that is authoritative for the query may be referred to as an authoritative search result. The search system can determine whether to obtain an authoritative search result in response to a query in a variety of ways, which will be described below.

This definition seems to tell us that authoritative sites are high quality sites. The timing of a couple of other actions at Google seem to fit in well with the granting of this patent. Once is the publication of a Blog post by long time Google search engineer Ben Gomes (who joined Google in 1999), on steps they have taken to improve the quality of results at Google, titled Our latest quality improvements for Search. In that post, Ben points out that Google has published a brand new set of Search Quality Rater Guidelines – May 11, 2017, publicly, so that they are shared with the world instead of just to Google’s Search quality raters.

One of the named inventors on this patent was an inventor on another patent that I wrote about which focused upon high quality sites as well. That patent is worth reading about together with this one. That post is one I wrote named Google’s High Quality Sites Patent. As I said of that patent, it describes its purpose in this way:

This patent identifies pages that rank well for certain queries, and looks at the quality of those pages. If a threshold amount of those ranking pages are low quality pages, the search engine might use an alternative query to find a second set of search results that include pages from high quality sites. Those search results from the first query might then be merged with the results from the alternative query, with the pages from the low quality sites removed so that the search results include a greater percentage of pages from high quality sites.

Authoritative Search Results are Higher Quality Results

So the aim of this new patent is to find results from higher quality search results, as authoritative search results. Google does seem to be targeting higher quality pages these days with the results they show.

Google sets a fairly high bar with search results, telling us in the description of this new patent:

Internet search engines aim to identify resources, e.g., web pages, images, text documents, multimedia content, e.g., videos, that are relevant to a user’s information needs and to present information about the resources in a manner that is most useful to the user.

In the summary section for this patent, the objective of the patent is identified to us as finding authoritative answers:

This specification describes how a system can improve search result sets by including at least one authoritative search result that identifies a resource on an authoritative site for a query. The system can include an authoritative search result, for example, when scores of an initial first search result set are low or when the query itself indicates that the user seeks resources from an authoritative site.

How This Patent Returns Authoritative Search Results

A search engine doesn’t choose the query terms that someone might use to perform a search with; but it might be able to identify query refinements based upon the initial query term. If the original query doesn’t return an authoritative result; Google might insert into the results shown for it some authoritative results for one of those query refinements based upon that original query. It might show that authoritative result at the top of the search results that it returns. This means that Google will be more likely to return high quality sites at the top of search results, rather than results from sites that might not be seen as authoritative sites.

The patent that was granted this week is:

Obtaining authoritative search results
Inventors: Trystan Upstill, Yungchun Wan, and Alexandre Kojoukhov
Assignee: Google Inc.
US Patent: 9,659,064
Granted: May 23, 2017
Filed: March 15, 2013

Abstract

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on computer storage media, for obtaining authoritative search results. One of the methods includes receiving a first search query. First search results responsive to the first search query are obtained. Based on the first search query or the first search results, an authoritative search result that identifies a resource on a site that is authoritative for the first search query is obtained. A ranking of the authoritative search result and the one or more first search results is generated, and the ranking of the authoritative search result and the one or more first search results is provided in response to the first search query.

There were some really interesting points raised in the patent, which makes the whole thing worth spending time reading carefully:

1. Google might maintain a “keyword-to-authoritative site database” which it can refer to when someone performs a query.
2. The patent described “Mapping” keywords on pages on the Web as sources of information for that authoritative site database.
3. Google may also maintain “topic keyword and category keyword mappings to authoritative sites”.
4. Google may calculate confidence scores, which represent a likelihood that a keyword, if received in a query, refers to a specific authoritative site.
5. The patent talks about Mapping revised queries, like this: “The system can also analyze user query refinements to generate additional topic or category keyword mappings or refine existing ones.”
6. Interestingly, the patent talks about revisions in queries as being substitute terms that might be used “aggressively to generate revised search queries.” I’ve written about substitute terms before in How Google May Rewrite Your Search Terms.
7. If the original query and the replacement query used to surface authoritative search results are similar enough (based upon a similarity score that would be used to compare them), that authoritative search result may be demoted in the results shown to a searcher.

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40 thoughts on “Authoritative Search Results in Google Searches?”

  1. Nice, I’m planning on taking your advice and reading this one myself. To be honest, most times I end up reading your write up’s about the patents well after I find them from other sources so it’s refreshing seeing it from your perspective before digging into the heady stuff that most of these patent contain.

    I like the idea of Google having a “repository” of authoritative sites and its an interesting thought that if you can get your site quality up high enough, you can make it in the list and potentially see a lot more traffic from terms you didn’t think of.

  2. Hi Clint,

    I like their example of the cdc.org site being an authoritative site for a query that contains “cdc” in it.

    The last third of the patent is a walk through of things such as how they might use a substitute term for a query to find an authoritative site, or how they might demote an authoritative result if the query refinement used is too similar to the original query term.

  3. Huh, looks like I have something to read during weekend 🙂
    So, basically Google will have list of high quality websites and they will be promoted in search results, even the ones not ranked?

  4. Hi Przemek,

    It’s likely that a site that has been determined by Google to be a high quality and authoritative website will rank for some queries, but not for all queries. Sometimes, some queries may return results that doesn’t include authoritative results. When that happens, Google may look at query refinements of that original query to see if the refinement shows any authoritative results. If it does, Google might show that authoritative result for the refinement in the results for the original query.

  5. “This means that Google will be more likely to return high quality sites at the top of search results, rather than results from sites that might not be seen as authoritative sites.”

    Love your summaries, Bill. There is something about this patent that bothers me a bit. I hope that authority won’t trump accuracy in the case where a non-authoritative site has the most accurate answer to a query.

  6. Hi Emory,

    Hopefully the most accurate answers will be coming fom the highest authority Websites, such as the cdc.org pages for information about diseases, or the irs.gov for US Tax questions. Authority based upon how trustworthy a site might be may be better than an authority based upon how many links point to a page and how much PageRank those contain.

  7. Who makes the decision of what is ‘trustworthy’ and ‘authoritative’?
    Which criterion do they use in making those decisions?
    None of the sources mentioned go into that topic to any degree.
    Google is becoming more and more like the Oracle of ancient Greece!

    [Please don’t delete my comment this time around!]

  8. I’m curious to find out what blog system you are utilizing? I’m having some minor security problems with my latest website and I would like to find something more safe. Do you have any suggestions?

  9. Awesome Post, Bill Slawski
    This article has almost everything regarding search results in search engine, How to google catch keywords and phrases from search query by users, here you have given best examples for it.
    Thanks a lot for the wonderful post.

  10. Hi Carey,

    Most patents are written on a level to people who practice within the industry the patent is within, and who are “learned in the art” of that industry. So when Google uses terms such as “trustworthy” and “authoritative”, it becomes a matter of looking around the search industry to see how it has typically defined terms like those. For example, a recent Search Engine Land article from earlier this month defined “Authority” for us:

    How Google measures the authority of web pages

    You should Google the Web to see if you can find more about Authoritative and Trustworthy within the Search community. For example, if you look up “Authoritative Search Results” you’ll see this post I wrote a while back:

    Has Google Decided that you are Authoritative for a Query?

    I linked to a couple of resources in this post, which I recommend you take a look at, including a very recent Google Blog post on quality sources and a Google Quality Raters Guidelines which talk about authoritativeness a lot. You may have missed those links. I would highly recommend going through the rater’s guidelines:

    https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en//insidesearch/howsearchworks/assets/searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf

    Look especially at the sections that talk about “Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness” Which they talk about using the Acronym “E-A-T”. Those sections cover those concepts very thoroughly. I think you may be satisfied with the depth of the answers that Google provides on those subjects – it’s not at all murky.

  11. Hi Alan,

    I try not to make a habit out of talking about details such as what blog system I am using in public places (It makes me feel safer to not do that.) There are a lot of articles on the web about how to make blogs more secure, I suggest you search for those. I was seeing some interesting articles on a search for “blog security tips.”

  12. Your own links provide reason to doubt the completeness of Google’s methods. Here’s just one example:
    “What are those things? Here, Google’s quiet, not providing specifics. The most it will say is that the bucket of factors it uses to arrive at a proxy for authority are something it hopes really does correspond to making authoritative content more visible.”

    I’ll continue to read the posts you’ve given me and get back.

  13. Your post is awesome and very descriptive. I am going to follow your tips in my seo work. Waiting for your next post.

  14. I have followed this development loosely the whole time. I DO know what Google has been doing and will do. Even more so after reading +Bill Slawski’s posts on the subject. I’m thankful for his work.

    I am NOT trying to criticise his post; rather, simply show how the control mechanisms and ‘cloaking’ of its methods to ‘help it’s users’ is not good for anyone! In the end we’ll have a boring and ‘safe’ search that keeps us all ‘on the farm’.

    What about unpopular knowledge?
    What about the knowledge that is not yet well understood and disagrees with those who assist in filtering out search results?
    Where is the oversight?
    Where does one have the certainty of justice and fairness regarding their interpretation what is ‘authoritative’ and what is ‘truthful’?

    many, many more questions…
    It’s not the job of a search engine to filter results without providing the tools for its users to do so on their own and with their consent! A whole market of such tools were beginning to take hold until Google started becoming opaque.

    The free market should be deciding what it wants to filter out, not ‘specialists’ who supposedly know better than those who use the search engine. There are many, many flaws to such a system.

    The petty excuse they use, which you seem to have bought into, is that manipulation of results have ensued, but that will happen no matter what ‘solution’ is provided *and which side the manipulation is on!*

    In Google’s case, it has decided to place the manipulation behind a cloud of secrecy. The manipulation cannot be contested, examined, nor repealed. Google is becoming a control paradigm and not a reliable source of information.

  15. +Bill Slawski​ Imagine a day where you will instead be describing the front ends Google or competitors are making to overtly perform the page ranking manipulation.

    I tell you one thing is sure. It opens a whole new market for those who will be defeating the current covert one they are developing now.

    Mark my words.

  16. This is very interesting and good to know, thank you! So placing your terms in headings and titles is of utmost importance. I think accuracy would trump authority if the content is great. I’ve outranked sites/pages with higher authority. The posts I use are around 1500+ words, well optimized and highly targeted and if they don’t outrank, a few quality backlinks does the job most times.

  17. Hi Yasser,

    Keep open the possibility that Google may be targeting ranking pages that do have more authority higher. That does seem to be the focus of things such as Google’s Project Owl, described here:

    http://fortune.com/2017/04/25/google-search-update/

    As the article tells us:

    How will Google decide what is “authoritative?”

    That’s partly where the humans come in. For a few months now, Google has been paying quality raters to review and improve the search results. Their reports (the humans can’t change the search results directly) are supposed to help train the algorithms to better weed out the hateful or misleading stuff Google wants to downgrade.

    This patent does seem to try to make content that is considered authoritative rank higher in search results.

  18. Hi Carey,

    Google has been receiving a lot of criticism lately for fake news results that have been showing up in search results at Google. They have started up things such as Project Owl, which is supposed to work to help human quality raters identify content that might be considered less than trustworthy, less than accurate, and less than authentic. These quality raters identify those types of things to help train an algorithm that aims at authoritative resources. If you look at the Human Raters Guide from May 11, 2017 that I provided a link to, it does spend a fair amount of effort explaining what Google means by Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. If you are going to accuse me of favoring manipulation of search results. I do honestly favor search results that are more trustworthy, that exhibit more expertise, and are from sources that are more authoritative. I have no problems with Google favoring such results. That is something I am proud to be guilty of.

  19. Please don’t take my criticisms of Google’s ranking paradigm as criticisms of you. I think you do very well at what you do.

    I’m sorry if I have offended you in any way. You do NOT deserve that nor was it my intention.

  20. Thank you, Carey,

    I do think that Google does try to do the best they can. They are not a common carrier or a utility, and the federal courts have ruled that Google’s rankings of web pages is protected free speech. We have seen them become more open, with the information that they share, like making the Human Raters Guides public. They also publish a lot of information in blog posts and their developer’s pages, and on the Google Research pages. Deep Mind included in the deal where they were acquired by Google a requirement that an AI ethics board be set up.

  21. I was so focused on how that might impact SEO and completely forgot about the OWL update and the whole fake news situation. The patent cannot come at a better time for Google and is something pretty useful in general! All things considered, should this be implemented into Google’s algos, a lot of tactics and SEOs will drop out.

  22. Hi Boryana,

    It does seem like a fit that matches well with the OWL update and the fake news problem. It was originally filed back on March 15, 2013, which means they appear to have been doing a good job of anticipating the kinds of problems it addresses. I am impressed by that. I’m wondering what triggered them to file it initially.

  23. Hi BIll,
    as far as anticipating the fake news issue is concerned, I am more inclined to believe that Google were just looking to gain better control over the SERP. After all, relevant and authoritative content in the SERP keeps users happy, which is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? Don’t know if that makes sense to you.

  24. Hi Brianna,

    It is likely that the team that worked on this page were aiming at more relevant and authoritative results, without anticipating the whole fake news issues, which seem to have most prominently sprung up from political debates (but not solely). Providing results that people can rely upon and feel comfortable with is the ultimate goal. I remarked on it in the comments as being good timing but it makes sense that Google engineers were targeting possibilities of problems anyway.

  25. Hello Bill,

    This is great in-depth post about how you can rank your sites in the eyes of the google.
    Thanks for the examples that how google catches the queries of keywords and phrases that are searched by the
    users.

    Thanks for the share.
    Shantanu

  26. Hi Bill,
    Google providing authoritative sites for search queries is obviously a good thing both for the reader and for Google. Google is not number one search engine by chance.
    But I am afraid all these means more work on SEO which is not easy as it is right now.
    Very elaborate post, thanks

  27. Hi Lovet,

    How do you go about making a site that is authoritative? You make it reliable and trustworty; filled with expertise and authoritativeness. Yes, that can be a lot of work, but it seems to be what Google wants to reward, and that makes a lot of sense.

  28. Hi, I love this article because you explain very clearly. I am going to follow your tips in my seo work. I am waiting for your next post.

  29. I’m just wondering how Google will determinate which sites are trustworthy and meaningful. Will Google develop just special algorithms for this field? Do they let us know what is most important or they will just provide their list with 200 ranking factors?
    K.

  30. Hi Karel,

    At one point in time Google used links pointing to a site as part of their PageRank Algorithm to determine which sites were the most authoritative. I’ve written about many other algorithms in patents from Google and from other search engines. One that is well known is The HITs algorithm from Joh Kleinberg:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HITS_algorithm

    Google representatives have hinted at 200 ranking factors, but they haven’t release a list of 200 ranking factors. There are at least a couple of SEOs who have written link-bait articles listing 200 ranking factors, though many of the ones they listed were questionable at best, and often had questionable proof or thinking behind them.

  31. Thanks for sharing. The tips are really useful. Moz also did an article on topical authority. Topical authority enables a site to rank well on niche keywords and phrases.

  32. Hi Sooraj,

    This isn’t about topical authority, bur rather sites that are considered authoritative by a search engine for a particular query term. What Moz srote about may help a page be seen as more about a particular topic; but authoritativeness is also about things such as how trustworthy a site might appear to be, and how much expertise is behind it.

  33. I love your article on the first time. You explain it very clearly. Thank you for sharing.

  34. I really dont know anything about the how does google look for Authoritative Search Results. so thanks for this post.

  35. Love this post! This article is informative, well-written and very interesting. I have truly enjoyed reading your own points of view and I agree with you for the most part. thank you sharing with us

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