Category Archives: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization tips and strategies and information, from SEO by the Sea, to help make web sites easier to find.

Google’s Patent on Site Speed as a Ranking Signal

On April 9th, 2009, many people developed an interest in speeding up their websites, after reading a post on the Google Webmaster Central Blog – Using site speed in web search ranking.

Early race car driver Bob Berman, who raced in the first Indy 500 in 1911.

On the same day, Google’s Matt Cutts published Google incorporating site speed in search rankings on his blog. These posts introduced site
speed as a ranking signal that Google would be using.

Matt Cutts told us that it wouldn’t be an earth shattering signal. And that it might not have an impact within a large set of rankings. But he did stress that speed has benefits other than just ranking, including improved user experience.

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How Google Uses Taxonomic Classifications to Better Understand the Meanings of Words on Pages

Many words found on a web page are much easier to understand given the context of the page itself, as described in a Google patent granted last week. For example, take the word “bank,” which can mean a financial institution, one side of a river, or the turning of an airplane. Without the context of the word itself within the setting of a page, it’s fairly impossible to determine what the meaning of the word might be with any certainty.

I usually include a section within site audits that dealt with the structure and organization of a site. This looks at how things are connected together by virtue of links from one page to another, and the use of anchor text to describe those sections and sub-sections within the sections.

It explores the use of a hierarchy of categories nested into subcategories, and sometimes into even smaller groupings of categories, and how those might be linked together.

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Will Keywords be Replaced by Topics for Some Searches?

The example for the post I was writing for today appears to have been hijacked by the Simpsons. They made an apology to Judas Priest, after referring to the band as a death metal band. The image below is from a Guardian news article on the apology which is presently highly ranked on a search for the word “Judas”. See the search results below:

Bart Simpson writing on a bulletin board that Judas Priest is not a death metal band.

I wanted to show a set of search results from Google that may have been based upon Google matching the topic of a post rather than keywords, which might help improve the relevance of search results for videos and media rich results, according to a Google patent granted on the last day of 2013, which uses that example.

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Entity Associations with Websites and Related Entities

When we talk about how web sites are related, it’s not unusual for us to talk about links between sites and pages. Google pays a lot of attention between such links, and they are at the heart of one of its most well known ranking signal – PageRank. PageRank is now more than 15 years old, predating the origin of Google itself in the BackRub search engine.

Google is exploring other signals that may be used to rank pages in search results, including social signals that may result in reputation scores for authors, in relationships between words that might appear together on pages ranking for the same queries, and in relationships between pages that show up in the same search results and in the same search sessions. The Google paper presented at an October 2013 natural language processing conference, Open-Domain Fine-Grained Class Extraction from Web Search Queries (pdf), provides some interesting hints at a possible Google of the future.

Google also seems to be very interested in building a knowledge base of concepts that better understands things like what different businesses or entities are ‘Known for’ or by defining entities better in ‘is a’ relationships. Sometimes pages for specific entities show up at the top of search results because they seem to be the page that people are looking for when they include that entity within a query, like the first two results on a search for [Roald Dahl], as seen in the image below:

Search results showing authoritative results for Roald Dahl and then results for books he wrote.

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Do You Have a Named Entity Strategy for Marketing Your Web Site?

When specific people, places, and things show up in queries or in web pages, that can be a signal to search engines to do something special in the results that they show. How prepared are you to understand and anticipate how the search engines treat them? Do you have a strategy in place?

A picture of a man playing chess with the Grim Reaper.

Named entities show up in a lot of queries – they may even be one of the kinds of things that people look for most online. In a 2010 white paper from Microsoft, Building Taxonomy of Web Search Intents for Name Entity Queries (pdf), we are told how large of a role that “named entities” play in search:

According to an internal study of Microsoft, at least 20-30% of queries submitted to Bing search are simply name entities, and it is reported 71% of queries contain name entities.

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How Google May Rewrite Your Search Terms

Within the announcement Google made earlier this year about the Hummingbird update is the search engine might rewrite queries, substituting some terms within them, when they think doing so might improve the results that searches see, and a very recent Google patent describes how Google might use a data driven approach to explore how effective those substitutions might be.

Flowchart from the Google patent showing how substitute terms might be tested

There is a history of Google making changes to queries and results to try to provide better search results.

Titles – In January of 2012, a Google Webmaster Central blog post told us that Google might sometimes change the title of a page in search results if they thought the new title might lead to more clicks and views of a page. While that might not be what the author of a page intended, it shows that Google is trying to make it easier for people to find the information they are searching for. I’ve run across sites where all the pages had the same titles, but unique main headings, and saw Google add the text for the main headings to those titles for each page.

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Hummingbird and Author Rank Authority

Is Hummingbird the key to understanding the expertise of an author for things like In-Depth articles, and a possible future Author Rank? With content from an author considered using a concept-based knowledge base, it’s quite possible.

The Google Hummingbird rewrite of Google’s search engine wasn’t just aimed at providing a way to better understand long and complex queries, like the type that someone might speak into their phone. It was also likely aimed at better understanding the concepts and topics written about and discussed on Web pages, and in social signals such as posts at Google+ and comments on those posts, in Tweets, in Status Updates, and other short text based messages where there might not be a lot of additional context to go with those messages.

The following screenshot shows the concepts that might appear for Tweets when they are analyzed using the Probase Concept-Based knowledge base (from Short Text Conceptualization using a Probabilistic Knowledgebase):

A breakdown of concepts that appear in specific tweets, according to the Probase knowledge base

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Concept-Based Web Search

There are a few different parts to this story, though I’m not sure how many there will be because I’m still in the middle of writing them. I started with a prologue, titled Are You,Your Business, or Products in a Knowledge Base?, which introduced Microsoft’s Conceptual Knowledge Base Probase.

Microsoft’s Probase Knowledge Base

Sometime between when Microsoft acquired semantic search company Powerset and now, the software company began work on one of the largest knowledge bases in the world, Probase. Why Bing doesn’t use it now is a mystery, but it doesn’t appear to. There are a few papers about Probase, including one titled, Concept-Based Web Search. Here’s a snippet from the paper, which might evoke some recent memories of Google’s Hummingbird update:

It is important to note that the lack of a concept-based search feature in all main-stream search engines has, in many situations, discouraged people from expressing their queries in a more natural way. Instead, users are forced to formulate their queries as keywords. This makes it difficult for people who are new to keyword-based search to effectively acquire information from the web.

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