How Google Enforces Category Diversity for Some Local Search Results

enforcing category diversity

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More Diversity in Search Results

Earlier this year, we were told that Google was making an effort to make the search results we see more diverse, by showing us fewer results from the same domains in response to a query. Search Engine Land covered that news with the post: Google search update aims to show more diverse results from different domain names.

Shortly before that news about more diverse results in organic search came out, Google was granted a patent in May which told us about how they might enforce category diversity in showing different points of interest in local search results, This post is about that effort to make local search results more diverse.

More Diversity At Google in 2013, in Past Search Results

Back in 2013. Google’s Former Head of Web Spam, Matt Cutts, published a video about more diverse search results in response to the question, Why does Google show multiple results from the same domain?

So this isn’t the first time we have heard about efforts from Google in trying to give us more diverse results, and they came out with a patent around that time to provide more diverse results as well.

I remember getting a phone call around 6 years ago from a co-worker who asked me why a client’s high ranking organic result might disappear from search results. I asked for the query and the client’s name and ran the search. The top-ranking result was a local result for the client. I told my co-worker that I was seeing that, and she told me that our client also used to have an organic result showing for that query, and a local result that wasn’t quite as high. It appeared that the organic result had been removed, and the local result had been boosted.

Coincidentally, I had written the following blog post the day before: How Google May Create Diverse Search Results by Merging Local and Web Search Results. I told my co-worker about the patent I had written about the day before, and sent her a link to that blog post. We were able to explain to our client what appears to have happened to their organic result for that query, that it looks like Google’s desire to have more diverse search results cause their page ranking organically was “merged” with the local result.

Category Diversity in a Patent Granted in 2019

I hadn’t seen anything quite like that merger between organic results and a local result happen again after that. It is impossible to tell if Google has been using that kind of merging since then. But that patent was all about providing more diverse search results to searchers. So when I see a patent, like this new one that tells us it exists to provide more diverse search results, I find myself wondering what, if anything could have been removed to make search results more diverse. If someone searches for “things to do in Carlsbad, California,” and they are provided with a list of restaurants to eat at, that would be disappointing, because while there are some nice restaurants here, there are plenty of other things to do.

By expanding to a category diversity from a diversity-based upon pages from the same domain, Google is giving us more diverse search results.

This new patent tells us about this category diversity in the following way:

When a searcher asks for points of interest information at a certain location, the local search system may generate a collection of candidate POIs and receives information relating to each candidate POI’s respective category and a score and rank within the category for each, and, for categories a searcher may select, promotes or demotes the score of each ranked candidate POI within its respective category through a scaling process.

It really is impossible to tell if Google has already implemented this patent which was granted in May. I tried some searches at different places to see if they showed diverse results for those places, and was given diversity in what I was being shown:

When I search for [points of interest Raleigh, NC], I get results that start out with a carousel of top things to do in Raleigh:

Points of Interest Raleigh

When I search for ][points of interest Carlsbad, Ca], I get results that start with a carousel of top things to do in Carlsbad:

Points of Interest Carlsbad

I wasn’t surprised to see carousels for those particular queries, and I tried a few more, worded a little differently, which didn’t trigger carousels. The patent doesn’t mention carousels, though. But those results do show some category diversity.

The patent does provide a lot of details on how Google might demote some listings that are in categories that are over-represented, and promote some listings that are associated with categories that are under-represented.

category diversity

The summary of the patent gives us the process behind it in a nutshell, telling us that the method behind it, includes receiving a request to:

Identify points of interest (POIs),
Obtaining data identifying

  1. Candidate points of interest (POIs) that satisfy the request
  2. A respective category associated with each candidate POI
  3. A non-scaled score associated with each candidate POI, ranking, for each of one or more of the categories, the candidate POIs associated with the category, based on the respective non-scaled scores, scaling, for each of the one or more categories, the non-scaled scores of the ranked candidate POIs associated with the category, ranking the candidate POIs using the scaled scores, for the candidate POIs that are associated with the one or more categories, and the non-scaled scores, for the candidate POIs that are not associated with the one or more categories, and providing data that identifies two or more of the candidate POIs, as ranked according to the scaled scores and the non-scaled scores

It goes on to provide much more depth about how category diversity might be achieved. And reading through it, it makes sense, that in an area where you may have a variety of 30-50 places that someone might want to visit, and five of those are Italian Restaurants, and the rest include other kinds of restaurants, museums, parks, beaches, theatres, stores, playgrounds, stadiums, nightclubs. You wouldn’t want to just tell a potential visitor to that location that there are five Italian Restaurants there and nothing about the diversity of other kinds of places.

Here is a little richer description of how Google may go about enforcing category diversity in response to requests for information about points of interest at different locations:

  1. Selecting, as the one or more categories, one or more categories that are each associated with more than a predetermined number of candidate POIs the predetermined number is two
  2. The method includes selecting, as the one or more categories, one or more categories that are each associated with one or more candidate POI
  3. Scaling, for each of the one or more categories that are associated with only one candidate POI, the non-scaled score of the ranked candidate POI associated with the category comprises multiplying the non-scaled score of the ranked candidate POI associated with the category by a factor of one
  4. Scaling the non-scaled scores of the ranked, candidate POIs includes increasing the respective non-scaled scores of the top n ranked candidate POIs
  5. Scaling the non-scaled scores of the ranked, candidate POIs includes leaving unchanged the non-scaled scores of one or more of the top n ranked candidate POIs
  6. Scaling the non-scaled scores of the ranked, candidate POIs includes decreasing the non-scaled scores of one or more of the top n ranked candidate POIs
  7. Dynamically determining a scaling factor to use to scale one or more non-scaled scores of the ranked, candidate POIs of a particular category based on a non-scaled score associated with a top ranked candidate POI of a different category; and/or the method includes dynamically determining a scaling factor to use to scale one or more non-scaled scores of the ranked, candidate POIs of a particular category based on a quantity of the candidate POIs of the particular category identified in the data.

That is a fairly complex approach to achieve diversity of results, but it seems to be one that will provide results that are truly diverse.

The patent on category diversity for local results can be found at:

Enforcing category diversity
Inventors: Neha Arora, Ke Yang, Zuguang Yang
Assignee: Google LLC
US Patent: 10,289,648
Granted: May 14, 2019
Filed: November 14, 2016

Abstract

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for enforcing the category diversity or sub-category diversity of POIs that are identified in response to a local search. According to one implementation, a method includes receiving a request to identify points of interest (POIs), obtaining data identifying (i) candidate points of interest (POIs) that satisfy the request, (ii) a respective category associated with each candidate POI, and (iii) a non-scaled score associated with each candidate POI, and ranking, for each of one or more of the categories, the candidate POIs associated with the category, based on the respective non-scaled scores. The method also includes scaling, for each of the one or more categories, the non-scaled scores of the ranked candidate POIs associated with the category, ranking the candidate POIs using the scaled scores, for the candidate POIs that are associated with the one or more categories, and the non-scaled scores, for the candidate POIs that are not associated with the one or more categories, and providing data that identifies two or more of the candidate POIs, as ranked according to the scaled scores and the non-scaled scores.

Takeaways

If I didn’t mention this patent, you may not have noticed a need for it. If it didn’t exist, and every time someone searched for something like [things to do in Carlsbad], and the same 5 Italian Restaurants showed up as things to do in town, you would notice that there isn’t much diversity.

I do find myself wondering what isn’t being included in These local results that are enforcing category diversity, but I do like seeing that diversity.

And if I want to see all of the local Italian Restaurants in the area, I can try another search for just for [Italian Restaurant].

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27 thoughts on “How Google Enforces Category Diversity for Some Local Search Results”

  1. Hey Bill, thank you for sharing this – caring indeed! I’ve googled the best places to visit in my city – and boom – a carousel appeared. Never gave it enough attention in the past. Speaking of restaurants, you are absolutely right – constantly getting them in your search results above everything else would’ve been a disaster! Nice to know that Googles cares about its users after all!

  2. Hi Bill,
    Great article. In the past few days I’ve noticed a SERP that has always been 10 domains and 100% commercial results (as in I’m looking for a product category to buy a product) to sometimes now displaying 2 results from the same domain, the original category page (pos 2) and one non-category page (pos 3). Do you think this is a result of the latest Diversity inforcement changes?

  3. Hi Bill,

    Thanks. Great post and breakdown, as always. I’ve noticed this happening a lot more frequently across our vertical. Most noticeably between localised websites vs national ones. Think I’ve got a better understanding now.

  4. Hi Robert,

    Thank you for sharing that observation. It’s difficult to tell when categories may be purposefully diverse, but it can be much easier to tell when they aren’t. Appreciate the confirmation that you are seeing diversity among categories like this.

  5. Hi Jean-Christophe,

    It’s good hearing that you are saving them up for later consumption. If you have any questions or observations about any of those posts, let me know. Thanks.

  6. Hi Wolfgang,

    I’ve found it helps trying to keep up, because they do make changes that they write about in their patents. And it’s good to have an idea of what might be going on.

  7. Hi Bill,

    This category diversity appears to be on local entity sites only, rather than all organic results. I don’t know if what you are seeing is related to it.

  8. Hi Greg,

    I’ve performed those searches in the past, too. And didn’t think much about the diversity. It does seem like a positive approach, and we have an idea now that it is done on purpose.

  9. Hi Bill!

    I’m curious to understand how much of the “diversity” is ruled by Google and how much, if any, is in the control of the user. If I’m always looking for places to eat near me, and keep choosing the same type (such as Italian), is there an opening anywhere for Google to recommend trying a different cuisine, or going beyond a mile limit or showing a special deal on a new organic cafe? Can it tell the difference between a user who is routine oriented and not up for change, vs someone who wants to explore new things?

    Thanks!

  10. Hi Kim,

    Good to see you. I think the query you decide to use will trigger what you might end up seeing – there aren’t any selectors or checkboxes, but I’m still exploring all of the places to eat at in Southern California near my home, and there is an incredible amount of Mexican and Seafood places in the area. I’ve been heading into the next town over, because there are a lot of places on Coastal Highway 101 in Encinitas, which has a great small town feel to it. But I just tried these searches, and got a wide variety of places to try: [places to eat Carlsbad] [places to dine Carslbad] [restaurants Carlsbad] Nothing was repeated, and there were some Mexican and Seafood places listed, but the results also included Spanish Food, California Cuisine and at least one Brew Pub.

    I didn’t see anything that allowed you to indicate that you wanted to see the same types of places, or that you wanted to try something new.

    I did write about another patent that told us that Google might start showing similar places. Search for a Coffee House, and Google might show you the closest, and then recommend 2 or 3 more: https://gofishdigital.com/google-similar-local-entities/

    I’m also getting notifications from Google Maps about places they are recommending that I might like because they are similar to places I reviewed. If you open the mobile version of Google Maps, they show you an “Explore nearby” feature, and you can mark places that you find interesting looking as places that you might like to try. Then if you get near those places, Google will send you a notification that they are close – I have used that in the past, and found some really good places that I would have missed otherwise.

  11. Hi Bill,

    It’s crazy How Google has become smarter and smarter day-by-day. I can’t even imagine what will be next for our surprise.

    When searching for something in a search engine and getting results with a carousel is the most interesting thing for me. It makes it easier to find out our queries fast.

    The summary of the patent assist me in understanding in depth the process behind SERPs.

    I’m grateful for your insights. Please keep coming with such more education contents around SEO.

    Cheers,
    Jeangam Kahmei

  12. Bill is the kind of guy you want beside you if there is a SEO exam. Just like bill, i searched for things to do in pokhara, and amazing there was big diversity in the result. There was carousel and certainly every single activities are different. So kudos Google.

  13. Hi Amin,

    It’s good seeing results that echo what a patent from Google is saying that they might be doing. I appreciate the diversity of choices. I’m not surprised that they tell me to go to the beach or to a local amusement park, but I really appreciate the diversity.

  14. Hi Bill,
    I appreciate your coverage of this part of the googleverse. While it might be a technicality, I wanted to raise a point about your use of “carousel” to describe the featured result that appears atop (usually, although sometimes it dips from 0 to 3 in some SERP variants) the [destination name + things to do] query. While there are 4 location cards that appear in that featured unit (most often sourced from GMB, but occasionally scraped from Wikipedia), it looks like a much different type of content than the “traditional” carousel that has been part of SERPs for several years (a more open set of cards that might scroll horizontally depending on the number of available entries). An example of that “traditional” version is probably visible in a query like [“Texas cities”] where each city is its own card, but there is no additional call to action prompting a user into a Google property. The unit that appears in [destination name + things to do] has a link that drives users into Google’s Travel Guide product, and clicking on one of those location cards takes users into a “Things to Do” section of that product. Meanwhile, the “traditional” carousel leads a user to a new SERP based on the card they clicked on. Much different behaviors. I don’t want to be an internet commenter who gets mired in minor semantics, but I would suggest the featured unit appearing in the things to do SERP is something other than a carousel because of those differences. As it relates to category diversity, I suspect that the bulk of that patent is actually being applied to that “Things to Do” section of the Travel Guide product on the other end of the featured unit in the SERP and not in the SERP itself. That Travel Guide is almost entirely programmatic, and the “Things to Do” section is aggregating a set of POIs from within a specific geographic area determined by the boundaries of the destination in most cases. That product started to appear in SERPs in the late-summer/early-fall of 2017 and has expanded its footprint (total number of SERPs where it appears) quite a bit since then. When it was first introduced, that set of POIs was very heavily skewed toward parks and outdoor spaces. It has become more diverse in its category selection since then over the course of many product updates. In some ways, it is still category limited, too. Having reviewed hundreds of those travel guides, we’ve never actually seen a restaurant appear in one (even though a famous restaurant would be a draw to many travelers who would be looking at that product). Museums, parks, wineries, breweries, historic sites, mountains, lakes, etc are the majority of what’s visible. But, I don’t mean to blather on. Thanks for breaking this down in such detail. Best regards.

  15. Hi Patrick,

    There are many features in Google’s Search Results that have gone unnamed for example, the results that you get when you ask for TV episodes or songs from a particular songwriter are a list across the top of a page, and down four or more levels deep.

    Google did introduce the term “carousels” when they first came out with the knowledge graph back in 2012, and they showed an example of one. The {things to do] local results are showing in a card that shows off 4 results, usually a mixed assortment of different activities. They are not referred to in the patent as being presented that way at all, and there is nothing in that patent to indicate how they might be presented, except to tell us about providing a diversity of results from different categories. It’s difficult to call anything a “traditional carousel” because there are so many features that Google shows off in different ways, like “top stories” or the “in-depth results that had a unique appearance for a while, and continued to appear in search results after Google stopped showing the unique display for those.

    It’s good hearing your experience with [things to do] results and the Travel Guide results, and thank you for sharing your observations and insights into what you have seen.

    Bill

  16. Great and thoroughly researched content as always Bill. I for one welcome such changes where only the best and most relevant results from a domain are displayed rather than multiple pages from the same. This definitely is a positive change for the end user and for queries like “places of interest in SF”, visitors don’t even need to click any link as all the relevant info is presented right there on the SERP page in a succinct manner. However, I also feel that this greatly increases challenges for webmasters and SEO experts who are looking forward to getting ranked and bringing in search engine traffic for such keywords.

  17. Maybe places like Netflix should take a leaf out of Google’s book on diversity. The “because you like X we will show you Y” is okay but you see one zombie film you’ve pretty much seen them all. Sometimes you want something completely different.

    On Categories, maybe Google could add “Are you looking for X or Y” too. For example, searching for “Escape Room Town/City” recently showed you cinema times at the top of the results due to a film that came out called “Escape Room”. In this instance having the option would filter the results so you could book a session at an Escape Room and then go see the film.

    Just my two-pennyworth 🙂

  18. Hi Bill, the thing that I can’t really get my head around is how Google determines what actually qualifies as a point of interest. While one person might be looking for the local restaurants and bars another person may be looking for gardens and libraries. Maybe eventually they will combine the personal information with the local data to come up with a personalised points of interest list. Thanks for putting this up.

  19. Insightful as always, Bill. I think it’d be far more interesting to see locally-relevant results instead of the same ‘authority’ publishers dominating SERPs regardless of geo-relevance.

    In a larger sense, this is Google playing catch up. DuckDuckGo already does a better job of offering more relevant & useful results for a lot of the more specific searches. Diversifying and segmenting to provide more relevant results is a step in the right direction.

  20. I have to say I agree with Richard above – a feature like Wikipedia has which includes ‘disambiguations’ would be excellent and probably help the machine learning.

    “Are you looking for “X”, the film, or “Y”, the music band?”
    “Here’s some more ideas …”

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