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.

How Google May Use Categories as a Search Ranking Factor

Does Google determine categories for pages and for queries, and can those play a role in how it ranks pages in search results?

Almost everyday, I receive visitors on a query for “bookshelf plans,” on the strength of a past post about Google’s plans for virtual bookshelves in Google library. Most of those visitors probably aren’t surprised that the page is about an online library given the title and snippet appearing for the post, but most of the search results preceeding it describe wooden rather than virtual shelves. My page really doesn’t fit within the same category as the others.

When a search engine determines whether a page is relevant for a certain query, it does more than try to match the text of the query with a page that contains that text, and looking at the links pointing to the page. A Google patent filed in 2004, and granted today describes how the search engine may try to associate web pages with categories, and queries with categories, and come up with a category score for each, to use to rank those pages for categories.

We are told that this kind of category matching addresses a couple of different problems.

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Bad Dates in Google Snippets: Hey Google, I’ve Blogged a Little Since 2005!

In my RSS feed reader, I have a section that I labeled “Vanity.” The feeds that occupy it are things like web search and twitter search feeds for my name, my sites’ names, my business name, and some other searches that interest me on the Web. I don’t really consider tracking these things to be a matter of vanity, but instead of necessity – a way to find conversations that might involve me, my site, and my business, and a chance to possibly get involved in those discussions.

As a site owner, I’ve also developed a habit that many site owners likely also share, of performing searches for queries such as my name, my sites’ names, my business name, and some other queries that I’m interested in. The exercise isn’t one based upon obsession with ranking as much as it is about being concerned about those conversations that I mentioned above, and concerned about how the search engines might be portraying my sites. For instance, when I search for my site name (seo by the sea), and Google shows a snippet that starts off with the date “Mar 8, 2005,” I find myself concerned about what that might mean to people who see that date.

A Google search result for seo by the sea, showing a date of Mar 8, 2005 at the start of the description for the site.

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How a Search Engine Might Rerank Search Results Based upon Topics

If you search for the word “cold” and you’re using the search box for a health related site, chances are you want to find out something about the illness. If you search for “cold” at Google or Yahoo or Bing, there’s a chance that you might be interested in weather or airconditioning or a cold war or stuffy nose.

Different sites and pages might focus upon specific topics of interest, such as health or sports, or weather, or constuction. A way a search engine might use to try to get around some of the limitations of words with multiple meanings is to assign domain or topical scores to web pages and other items found on the Web, regardless of which queries they might be good results for. Then if a query seems to cover a specific domain or topic, to return pages that involve that topic, based upon a “domain score” for those pages.

Why Look at Domains (Categories of Interest) in Ranking Pages?

The patent’s description begins by describing conventional methods of ranking pages in search results. When a search engine attempts to match a query with a document, there are a number of steps that it may go through first.

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SEO Quiz

I thought it might be fun to put together an SEO Quiz.

How many of the following can you get right?

I’ll post the answers later. The answers are now listed, after a spoiler warning below.

1. Stanford University’s PageRank is named after?

a. Ranking Web Pages
b. Satchel Page
c. Larry Page
d. The Palo Alto Gradient Evaluation
e. None of the above

2. Which of the following search engine crawling models has not been proposed in either an academic paper or patent for emulating how people might visit web pages?

a. Random Surfer
b. Rowdy Surfer
c. Cautious Surfer
d. Reasonable Surfer
e. None of the above

3. Which company wasn’t started by two students who walked away from finishing their degrees.

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Google’s Affiliated Page Link Patent

Might Google rank links to pages differently based a perception of how related or affiliated those pages might be to each other? For instance, if three pages authored by the same person link to a fourth page, and two other pages, each written by other people, also link to that fourth page, should the three links from the same author count as passing along three times as much link weight as the links from the independently written pages?

A diagram from a Google patent that shows three links from one author to a page from that same author, and two additional links pointing to the linked to page from other authors.

A patent granted to Google today shows how the search engine might analyze how “affiliated” pages or sites are to each other, and how their degree of affiliation might influence the amount of weight passed along by each link.

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Google Patent Granted on Polite Web Crawling

Your website may be invaded by robots at any time. If you’re lucky that is – at least if you want people to visit you from places like Google or Yahoo or Bing. And, if the visiting robots are polite.

In the early days of the Web, automated programs known as robots, or bots, were created to find information on the Web, and to create indexes of that information. They would do this regardless of whether you wanted them to visit your pages or not, and you had no way to tell them not to go through your web site.

If you search through Usenet message boards from the early days of the Web, you might come across a document such as the World Wide Web Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), Part 1/2 (December, 1994), which describes robots in those days:

4.10: Hey, I know, I’ll write a WWW-exploring robot! Why not?

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Google and Metaweb: Named Entities and Mashup Search Results?

Google’s recent purchase of Metaweb, who run the Freebase directory left many wondering at the motivations behind the acquisition. Did Google buy the company for its technology, for its Freebase directory, for the expertise of its employees?

A Google patent application published today hints at one reason behind the deal, with a mention of Metaweb’s Freebase, and how it could be used by Google in a process that may expand the amount of information that the search giant shows us about specific people, places, and things (including ideas and concepts such as democracy) in search results.

It might also result in search results that are mashups of different information relating to queries involving named entities, such as seen in the image below:

A mashup search result on a search for Mount Bachelor, showing different page segments including one for weather, one for Mount Bachelor Community College, another for lodging and hotels, and an additional on listing other mountains.

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The Importance of the Journey: Search Trails and Destination Pages

Two Microsoft papers being presented at this week’s SIGIR’10 conference in Geneva, Switzerland explore the topics of Search Trails – The pages that a searcher travels through after performing a search for a query before reaching a final destination page.

The idea of delivering searchers to a final destination page, a page where previous searchers for a specific query often end up at before they either stop searching, or changed the focus of their search, is something that Microsoft has explored in the past.

I wrote about a patent filing from Microsoft a couple of years ago which explored how user behavior signals, such as how searchers browsed through pages to find information might be used to rerank search results. The post, Search Trails: Destinations, Interactive Hubs, and Way Stations, took a look at how search trails – the pages browsed between an initial query and a final page visited, might offer useful query suggestions to searchers as well.

That patent filing, and the 2007 SIGIR best paper, Studying the Use of Popular Destinations to Enhance Web Search Interaction (pdf) by Ryen W. White, Mikhail Bilenko, and Silviu Cucerzan, focused more upon the final destination pages found than the pages visited along the way. Ryen White is listed as a co-author in the earlier papers and patent filing on search trails, and he is one of the authors listed on the papers presented this week in Switzerland as well.

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