Patent on (Intentional) Errors in Google Maps?

Imagine the Earth broken down into a series of cells, and each of those cells broken down into a series of even smaller cells, and then into smaller cells again, and so on, in a spatial index. Each of the levels become increasingly narrow, and increasingly more precise areas or zoom levels of the surface of the Earth.

As these cells decrease in size, they increase in numbers, which has the impact of increasing the zoom level and the accuracy of areas represented in such an index. Might work good in a place like China, where latitude and longitude are banned for export as munitions. Such a set of cells might be part of a geospatial analyzing module that links specific businesses and points of interest (parks, public regions, landmarks, etc.) to specific places on this model or index of the earth. That might be one index of the businesses and one index for the points of interest, or a combined database that includes both.

Sometimes that index might include a business and a landmark within the same cell. While that could be correct in some instances, such as a shop appearing within the Empire State Building, Often its an error, and sometimes even an intentional error. People will sometimes enter incorrect information into a geographic system like this to try to gain some kind of advantage.

If people search for something like a motel “near” a particular park for instance, the motel that appears to be next to, or even within the boundaries of that part might seem to have something of an an advantage in terms of distance from that part when it comes to ranking the motel. And, sometimes Google doesn’t seem to do the best job in the world at putting businesses in the right locations at Google Maps.

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Google Tackles Geographic (Map) Spam for Businesses

When Google ranks businesses at locations in Google Maps, they turn to a number of sources to find mentions of the name of the business coupled with some location data. They can look at the information that a site owner might have provided when verifying their business with Google and Bing and Yahoo. They may look at sources that include business location information such as telecom directories like superpages.com or yellowpages.com. or business location databases such as Localeze. They likely also look at the website for the business itself, as well as other websites that might include the name of the business and some location data for the business, too.

What happens when the information from those sources doesn’t match. Even worse, what happens when one of these sources includes information that might be on the spammy side? A patent granted to Google this week describes a way that Google might use to police for such places. The patent warns against titles for business entities that include terms such as “cheap hotels,” “discounts,” Dr. ABC–555 777 8888.” It also might identify spam in categories for businesses that might include things such as “City X,” “sale,” “City A B C D,” “Hotel X in City Y,” and “Luxury Hotel in City Y.”

In the context of a business entity, information that skews the identity of or does not accurately represent the business entity or both is considered spam.

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How Google May Identify Navigational Queries and Resources

I sometimes see people say that paid search is a great way to do keyword research for SEO, but I disagree with that statement. Paid search primarily focuses upon keywords that are transactional in nature – usually the terms chosen are the kind that match an intent to buy something, download something, or take some other kind of action. I’ve asked many people who do search engine advertising, and focus on Adwords if they ever target queries that are informational in nature, and most of the time the answer has been no.

Often searchers will do some research on a product or service before they decide who to buy from. They will perform research to find what kinds of features are available for different products, try to find reviews or opinions from others, They may try to compare different manufacturers as well. These types of queries are more informational in nature, and the same searcher will conduct these types queries that evidence an informational intent before they begin to consider a query with a transactional intent.

An image of a mariner's compass from the Library of Congress.

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Ranking Webpages Based upon Relationships Between Words (Google’s Co-Occurrence Patent)

My last post, Not All Anchor Text is Equal and other Co-Citation Observations, was a response to a White Board Friday video posted a couple of weeks ago at the SEOmoz Blog, Prediction: Anchor Text is Dying…And Will Be Replaced by Co-citation. I didn’t expect my next post (this one) to revisit that post and its observation that the way certain words might co-occur on pages might be a possible ranking signal that Google may be using.

Rand noted that first page rankings for three different pages, which didn’t seem very much optimized for the queries they were returned for, might be ranked based upon a ranking signal that looks at how words tend to co-occur on pages related to those queries. My post in response explored some reranking approaches by Google that also might account for those rankings, including Phrase Based Indexing, Google’s Reasonable Surfer Model, Named Entity Associations, Category associations involving categories assigned to queries and categories assigned to webpages, and Google’s use of synonyms in place of terms within queries.

Google’s Phrase-Based Indexing approach pays a lot of attention to words (phrases, actually) that appear together, or co-occur, in the top (10/100/1,000) search results for a query and may boost pages in rankings based upon that co-occurrence, and seemed like a possible reason why those pages might be appearing on the first page of results. The other reranking approaches that I included also seemed like they might be in part or in full responsible for the rankings as well. Then I found a patent granted to Google this week that seems like an even better fit.

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Not All Anchor Text is Equal and other Co-Citation Observations

Last Friday, in a well received and thoughtful White Board Friday at SEOmoz titled Prediction: Anchor Text is Dying…And Will Be Replaced by Co-citation (title changed at SEOmoz) Prediction: Anchor Text is Weakening…And May Be Replaced by Co-Occurrence, Rand Fishkin described how some unusual Search Results caused him to question how Google was ranking some results.

Rand Fishkin during the introduction to an SEOMoz white board Friday video presentation on a prediction on the death of anchor text and the growth of co-citation as a ranking signal.

I’m a big fan of looking at and trying to analyze and understand search results for specific queries, especially when they include results that appear somewhat puzzling, and I think those provide some great fodder for discussions about how Google might be ranking some search results. Thanks, Rand.

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How Search Engines Might Use Knowledge Base Information for Underserved Queries

If I were to tell you that the major search engines have a bigger and richer database full of information than their index of the World Wide Web, would you believe me? Chances are that you’re one of the persons who helped build it. The information that Google and Bing and Yahoo collect about the searches and query sessions and clicks that searchers perform on the Web covers an incredible number of searches a day. When Google introduced their Knowledge Graph this past May, they gave us a hint of the scope and usage of this database:

For example, the information we show for Tom Cruise answers 37 percent of next queries that people ask about him. In fact, some of the most serendipitous discoveries I’ve made using the Knowledge Graph are through the magical “People also search for” feature.

When someone performs a search for a query that doesn’t produce much results at Google or Bing, the search engines might remove some of the query terms to provide more results, or they might look for synonyms that might help fill the same or a similar informational need. But chances are that such approaches still might not produce the kinds of results that searchers want to see.

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Can Author Rank or Other Social Network Rankings Get You Crawled First?

Can social networking rankings influence which users profiles and interactions get crawled and then indexed first by a search engine crawling program? A Microsoft patent application asks and answers that question. Is it something that Bing is using, or will use?

Importance Metrics for Prioritizing Crawls

Back in the early days of Google, PageRank wasn’t just a way of ranking pages based upon the quality and quantity of links pointed to your pages. Google also used PageRank as one of the importance metrics used to decide which pages to prioritize when they had to choose which URLs to crawl first. The paper, Efficient Crawling Through URL Ordering (pdf), co-authored by Google Founder Lawrence Page pointed to a few other metrics that were used to decide which URLs to visit first on a crawl, including PageRank. Another of those looked at how close a page is to the root directory of a site. The idea behind that one is that it’s better to index a million different home pages than it is to index a million pages on one site.

With the growth of social networks and an incredible amount of user generated content that comes with them, there’s a lot less reliance upon links, and yet search engines want to crawl and index as much content from those types of sites as well. The lack of links to those means that something like PageRank is out of the question – and probably would be if we were talking about Google, too. Search engines don’t just want to crawl and then index user profiles, but also the things users of those networks post and the conversations that they have. Why not focus upon crawling content from people who are more active on those social networks?

Social networking content should be relevant and recent when shown in search results. But the ranking of that social content is an area that fairly new to social networks, and something that there’s really no established methods for. A search engine can grab a crawl list from a social network, with the URLs of pages and posts and pictures to crawl, but where should it start? Such a crawl list can even be easy to retrieve, especially in cases like when a social network like Twitter might turn over an XML feed to a search engine. But again, where to begin?

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Does Google Use Reachability Scores in Ranking Resources?

Can the quality of links that your pages or videos or other documents link to influence the ranking of your pages, based upon a reachability score? A newly granted patent from Google describes how the search engine might look at linked documents and other resources reachable from a page or video or image to determine such a reachability score.

Search rankings might be promoted (boosted) or demoted in search results for a query based upon that reachability score calculated based upon a number of different factors.

Someone clicks on a search result, and while there they find links to other resources that they might click upon. Different user behaviors recorded by a search engine might be monitored to determine how people interact with the first, or primary resource visited, and similar user behavior signals may also be looked at for pages or videos or other resources linked to from that resource. Reachability scores might also be calculated for those secondary resources linked to from the first resource, looking at the third or tertiary pages and other resources linked to from the secondary resources.

Calculating reachability scores may follow a process like the following:

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Getting Information about Search and SEO Directly from the Search Engines