Universal Search Updated at Google

Archeology

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unsplash-logoTristan Colangelo

Sura gave up on her debugging for the moment. “The word for all this is ‘mature programming environment.’ Basically, when hardware performance has been pushed to its final limit, and programmers have had several centuries to code, you reach a point where there is far more signicant code than can be rationalized. The best you can do is understand the overall layering, and know how to search for the oddball tool that may come in handy—take the situation I have here.” She waved at the dependency chart she had been working on. “We are low on working fluid for the coffins. Like a million other things, there was none for sale on dear old Canberra. Well, the obvious thing is to move the coffins near the aft hull, and cool by direct radiation. We don’t have the proper equipment to support this—so lately, I’ve been doing my share of archeology. It seems that five hundred years ago, a similar thing happened after an in-system war at Torma. They hacked together a temperature maintenance package that is precisely what we need.

“Almost precisely.”

~ Vernor Vinge, A Deepness in the Sky

In a science fiction novel set far in the future, Vernor Vinge writes about how people might engage in software archaeology. I understand the desire to do that, looking at some patents that give us hints about how technology is changing, and processes behind search engines do as well.

Google has just been granted a continuation patent for universal search. This post is looking at how the patents covering universal search at Google have changed. This post is not intended as a lesson on how patents work, but knowing something about how continuation patents work, can provide some insights into the processes that people at Google are trying to protect when they have updated the universal search patent. This post is also not intended as an analysis of patents, but rather a look at how search works, and has changed in the last dozen years or so

A patent is pursued by a company to protect the process described within the patent. It isn’t unusual that the process protected by a patent might change in some way as it is implemented, and put into use. What sometimes happens when that takes place is that the company that was originally assigned the initial patent might file another patent. One referred to as a continuation patent, which takes the original granted date of the first version of the patent as the start time for protection under the patent.

The continuation patents are usually very similar to the earlier versions of the patents, with the description sections often being very close to identical. The parts of the patents that change are the claims sections, which are what prosecuting attorneys deciding whether to grant a patent look at and review to see if the patents are new, non-obvious and useful, and should be granted.

So, in looking at updated patents covering a specific process, ideally it makes sense to look at how the claims have changed over time.

The Original Universal Search Patent Application

Before the patent was granted, I wrote about it in the post How Google Universal Search and Blended Results May Work which was about the Universal Search Patent application published in 2008. That patent was granted, and the claims from the original filing of the patent were updated from the original application, when it was granted in 2011 (Sometimes processes in original applications have to be amended for the patent to be granted, and the claims may change to match those).

The First Universal Search Patent

In the 2011 granted version of Interleaving Search Results, the first six claims to the patent give us a flavor for what the patent covers:

The invention claimed is:

1. A computer-implemented method, comprising: receiving a plurality of first search results in a first presentation format, the first search results received from a first search engine, the first search results identified for a search query directed to the first search engine, the first search results having an associated order indicative of respective first quality scores that are used to rank the first search results; receiving one or more second search results in a second presentation format different from the first presentation format, the second search results received from a second search engine, the second search results identified for the search query directed to the second search engine, wherein the first search engine searches a first corpus of first resources, wherein the second search engine searches a second corpus of second resources, and wherein the first search engine and the second search engines are distinct from each other; obtaining a respective first quality score for a plurality of the first search results, the respective first quality score determined in relation to the corpus of first resources and obtaining a respective second quality score for each of the one or more second search results, each respective second quality score determined in relation to the corpus of second resources; and inserting one or more of the second search results into the order including decreasing one or more of the respective first quality scores by reducing a contribution of a scoring feature unique to the first search results and distinct from scoring features of the second search results so that the inserted second search results occur within a number of top-ranked search results in the order.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein the plurality of first search results comprises an ordered list of search results, and wherein the plurality of first search results is a number of highest-quality search results provided by the first search engine that are identified as responsive to the search query.

3. The method of claim 1, further comprising: receiving a third search result, the third search result received from a third search engine, wherein the third search engine searches a corpus of third resources, and wherein the third search engine is distinct from the first search engine and the second search engine; and inserting the third search result into the order.

4. The method of claim 1, wherein: the first resources are generic web pages and the second resources are video resources.

5. The method of claim 1, wherein: the first resources are generic web pages and the second resources are news resources.

6. The method of claim 4, further comprising: receiving a third search result from the second search engine; and inserting the third search result at a position between two otherwise adjacent first search results in the order, the position not being adjacent to the inserted one or more second search results.

The Second Universal Search Patent

We know that Google introduced Universal Search Results at a Searchology presentation in 2007 (a few months before the patent was filed originally), and the patent has been updated since then, with a continuation patent titled Interleaving Search Results granted in 2015, which has new claims, which insert the concept of historic click data into those. Here are the first five claims from that version of the patent:

The invention claimed is:

1. A computer-implemented method comprising: receiving in a search engine system a query, the query comprising query text submitted by a user; searching a first collection of resources to obtain one or more first search results, wherein each of the one or more first search results has a respective first search result score; searching a second collection of web resources to obtain one or more second search results, wherein each of the one or more second search results has a respective second search result score, wherein the resources of the first collection of resources are different from the resources of the second collection of web resources; determining from historical user click data that resources from the first collection of resources are more likely to be selected by users than resources from other collections of data when presented by the search engine in a response to the query text; generating enhanced first search result scores for the first search results as a consequence of the determining, the enhanced first search result scores being greater than the respective first search result scores for the first search results; generating a presentation order of first search results and second search results in order of the enhanced first search result scores and the second search result scores; generating a presentation of highest-ranked first search results and second search results in the presentation order; and providing the presentation in a response to the query.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein the historical click data represents resource collections of search results selected by users after submitting the query.

3. The method of claim 1, wherein determining from historical user click data that resources from the first collection of resources are more likely to be selected by users than resources from other collections of data when presented by the search engine in a response to the query text comprises: obtaining one or more user characteristics of the user; and determining that users having the one or more user characteristics are more likely to select resources from the first collection of resources than resources from other collections of data.

4. The method of claim 1, wherein generating the presentation of highest-ranked first search results and second search results in the presentation order comprises generating the presentation so that at least one first search result occurs within a number of highest-ranked second search results.

5. The method of claim 1, wherein generating the presentation of highest-ranked first search results and second search results in the presentation order comprises: generating each of the second search results in a web search results presentation format; and; generating each of the first search results in a different presentation format

The Updated Universal Search Patent

The newest version of Interleaving Search Results is still a pending patent application at this point, published on January 2, 2019

Publication Number: 3422216
Publication Date: 02.01.2019
Applicants: GOOGLE LLC
Inventors: Bailey David R, Effrat Jonathan J, Singhal Amit
(EN) Interleaving Search Results

Abstract:

(EN) A method comprising receiving a plurality of first search results that satisfy a search query directed to a first search engine, each of the plurality of first search results having a respective first score, receiving a second search result from a second search engine, the second search result having a second score, wherein the search query is not directed to the second search engine, wherein at least one of the first and second scores is based on characteristics of queries or results of queries learned from user click data; and determining from the second score whether to present the second search result, and if so, presenting the first search results in an order according to their respective scores, and presenting the second search result at a position relative to the order, the position being determined using the first scores and the second score

1. A method comprising:

receiving a plurality of first search results that satisfy a search query directed to a first search engine, each of the plurality of first search results having a respective first score;

receiving a second search result from a second search engine, the second search result having a second score, wherein the search query is not directed to the second search engine;
wherein at least one of the first and second scores is based on characteristics of queries or results of queries learned from user click data; and

determining from the second score whether to present the second search result, and if so:

presenting the first search results in an order according to their respective scores, and

presenting the second search result at a position relative to the order, the position being determined using the first scores and the second score.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein receiving a second search result from a second search engine comprises:

receiving a plurality of second search results, each second search result having a respective second score, each second search results from a respective second search engine, wherein the search query is not directed to the respective second search engines; and

determining from the respective second scores whether to present respective ones of the second search results.

3. The method of claim 1, wherein presenting the second search result at a position relative to the order comprises inserting the second search result at a position between two otherwise adjacent first search results in the order.

4. The method of any preceding claim, wherein the first and second search result scores are based on multiple distinct scoring features, the multiple distinct scoring features including at least one unique scoring feature of the first search engine distinct from the scoring features of the second search engine.

5. The method of any preceding claim, wherein the characteristics of queries or results of queries learned from user click data comprise a relationship between one of the first corpus of first resources and the second corpus of second resources and a particular search query.

Changes to Universal Search

If you look at them, you will see David Bailey’s name on those patents. He wrote a guest post at Search Engine land about Universal Search that provides a lot of insight into how it works and the title of the post refers to that: An Insider’s View Of Google Universal Search It’s worth reading though his analysis of Universal search carefully before trying to compare the claims from one version of the patent to another

The second version of the claims refer to historic click data, and the newest version changes that to “user click data”, but doesn’t provide any insights into why that change in the claims was made. We’ve heard spokespeople from Google tell us that they don’t utilize user click data to rank content, so this gets a little confusing if they are taken at their word.

Another difference in the latest claims is where it refers to multiple distinct scoring features, and how each type of search that is blended into results has some unique scoring feature that sets it apart from the results inserted on to the search results page from a search engine before it. We do know that different types of search are ranked based upon different signals, such as freshness being important for news results, and links often for Web results. So results shown in universal search may all be relevant for a query searched for, but have some element that considers some unique features that adds diversity to what we see in SERPs.

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29 thoughts on “Universal Search Updated at Google”

  1. I think Google is still heading towards user satisfaction as we have seen with the search engine updates in 2018.
    I think that its scalability involves improving its algorithm to the point of completely satisfying the search of users, as it does for example, Toutiao in China.
    Google must work its algorithm through AI with the sole purpose of anticipating even the search of users.
    Here Toutiao already has an advantage over Google, they were even able to create news content with bots in the Beijing Olympics.
    The news produced by bots were much faster than those produced by humans.
    A search engine is based on the satisfaction of users who use it, saving them time (even saving having to think).
    Great blog.

  2. Hello, Bill! So valuable and educative entry. It’s good to know this all stuff about Universal Search Patents – thanks for it!

  3. Appreciate your commitment to tracking the Google Patents. Those are “fun” reads I am sure, but you distilling them here makes it a little more bearable. Allows us to feed the Beast that for which it is hungry.

    I then spend my mental energy thinking how do I both comply and exploit this. Thanks!

  4. Hi Jordon,

    That is the challenge that these updates via continuation patents bring – how much of a difference to what you are doing might it have upon how your pages rank, or could rank? It’s worth seeing changes like this take place, so that you can even consider that question at all.

  5. Hi Ali,

    The updated version of the patent just came out, so the information isn’t old. Otherwise they wouldn’t have gone through the effort to have the patent brought before a patent examiner again, and the prosecuting attorney from the USPTO wouldn’t have granted it.

  6. Great Article.As someone have just starting out in the world of blogging, i
    need all the tips i can get. i am so grateful for some simple, easy to implement
    advice.

  7. Thanks for such a great post, Bill! I’ve been searching on a very simplified but techie article on universal search and I just found yours. 🙂

  8. Thanks for sharing this useful update on Universal search update at google. This will be very helpful in optimising our website for better rankings in google

  9. Mind blowing, again. I don’t know how you do it. Its like reading legalize. Maybe not mind blowing but rather mind numbing.
    I love your insight. The change to “user” as in “the newest version changes that to “user click data”, but doesn’t provide any insights into why that change in the claims was made. We’ve heard spokespeople from Google tell us that they don’t utilize user click data to rank content, so this gets a little confusing if they are taken at their word.” wink, wink
    Search is super personalized, although I don’t think that is the correct term, technically. Maybe more like localized? Plus a few other terms like that. So user click data and ranking is already happening to some extent?
    I love watching you flesh these out and your sense of humor.

  10. Thanks, Jennifer. If pages are included at the top of universal search results based upon things such as User Clicks, somewhere a decision was made that those should be at the front of those results. That does sound more than a little like a decision to rank. If the patent is protecting Google’s search process, and it shows off how pages are returned in order, it does sound like ranking to me. Personaliized would be more of a search history type term, like in the last version of the claims for this patent – a search history that shows a personal bias towards some type of content, where we’ve moved to user clicks, which are decisions as to whether some content appears to be relevant for a query according to searchers. That is how I’m interpreting that language change.

  11. Man, this is almost like another language. I am trying to wrap my head around most of it but it’s great. So this is suggesting that when people search and click on a result, this is being saved and stored to use for future rankings of that page? Or am I way off?

  12. Great post. It’s a fact that your blog posts are so unique and interesting
    I have always admired your site. Thanks for the great tips and work .

  13. Hi,

    To be sincere am just speechless, this is really a superb article and one of those every research out there should give a 5 star rating.. Kudos!!

  14. Such a great piece of article about Google search term, I have learned some fascinating things from this post. Hopefully, it will play a key role in SEO my blog. Good luck!

  15. Bill – loved this article. Like how you provided us a historical perspective of how the Universal Search Patent has evolved. I personally think more updates are coming.

  16. Hi Trevor,

    I like learning the historicalperspective of changes to things like Universal search – I’ve seen many of those changes as they took place, and it is interesting watching the evolution. I suspect we will continue to see more, too.

  17. There many terms and understandings in the article that i have seen first time. Thank you very much for this deep level knowledges. Google patent covers may contain some signs about future of seo.

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