Cheers for Google’s New Accessible Search

Some very good news from Reuters (via John Blossoms’s Content Blogger), Google is testing more accessible Web search for the visually impaired.

At Google Labs, you can now find Google’s Accessible Web Search for the Visually Challenged . It doesn’t look that different from the regular Google Interface, but the difference appears to happen behind the scenes. According the Accessible Search FAQ, it goes beyond finding the most relevant results by finding the most accessible pages from the normal web search result set.

I tried a few searches, and they confirmed that rankings do change, and sometimes significantly, for those searches. I’m seeing sites that were constructed with accessibility as a major goal move up considerably in rankings.

The FAQ tells us that it looks at HTML markup, and

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Will the Government Link to Your Pages?

A question from a recent visitor asked about how to get a government web site to link to their site. It was a good question, and I sent a response with a couple of ideas, and a postscript noting that it was such a good question that I was considering writing a blog post on the topic.

First, I want to mention that their question really had nothing to do with the idea that a link from a government site would somehow increase their rankings in the search engines more than links from other pages. But, let me address that aspect of links from government sites briefly.

Is a link from a .gov or a .edu worth more than a link from another set of pages? The truth is that we don’t really know.

There are a handful of references in patent applications and whitepapers that say positive things about government web sites. For instance, the Google patent application Information retrieval based on historical data says this about links from government sites:

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Conceptual Highlighting in Electronic Text

Imagine that you are scrolling through a page, and see a section of the page highlighted. The text in that area matches an interest profile that you recently created, or it’s along the same topics that you’ve been searching through. Or it is somehow conceptually related to whatever you searched for that may have brought you to this page.

A patent application from the Palo Alto Research Center describes how something like this might work. Instead of highlighting only keywords, the following suggests ways to highlight sentences and sections of web pages that related in some conceptual manner to something that you may be searching for.

Method for automatically performing conceptual highlighting in electronic text

The inventors named in the patent are:

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An Early Personalized Recommendation System – Firefly

I’ve been taking a look at personalized recommendations systems recently, and one of the systems that I remember from earlier days on the web was for music, through a service known as Firefly. I’ve always wondered whatever happened to the service, and the people behind it.

I know that at one point, the company providing this service was partnered with Yahoo, and then it was later purchased by Microsoft. This personalized system was originally developed at MIT, and was incorporated into a business in 1995, by graduate students and Professor Patti Maes. Some of the technology developed by the company transformed into Microsoft’s Passport system.

Wired has a nice write up of the company in an article titled Firefly’s Dim Light Snuffed Out

In an article from this past May, Pitchfork also discusses some of those early days, when the professor turned to her students for some music recommendations because she didn’t like what was playing on Boston radio at the time, in Chris Dahlen’s Better Than We Know Ourselves. The article also looks at some more recent music recommendation systems.

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Authority Documents for Google’s Local Search

There are a couple of mysteries associated with Google’s local search. One of them is, “How does the search engine decide which web pages should be associated with a specific business and location?” The second is, “What location should be associated with a business?”

If you’ve tried to get a page to rank well in local search, some of the details of this post may not surprise you. If you’ve tried to unravel the mystery of why a business is associated with an old address, and noticed that the old address still appears all over the pages of the business web site, some of the details won’t come as a shock.

Google introduced some new ideas on what it means to be an authoritative source for local search in a patent application that was published this week.

Some Local Optimization Tips Pre-Patent

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Google and Document Segmentation Indexing for Local Search

Imagine a regional magazine writes up a number of reviews of restaurants from a certain city neighborhood, on a web page, and those reviews provide information for each restaurant about their hours, specialties, locations, wine lists, menu choices – but all of the reviews are on one page.

This kind of information would be great for a local search site to collect and show to users looking for places to eat in that area. Except that all of those reviews are on the same page – how does the search engine identify which information goes with which restaurant?

And if they can make that kind of distinction, can they use the process developed for more than just local search?

Visual Segmentation

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Automated Search Ad Approval Process

A search engine manually checking ads to be served with search results, or on web pages could be a pretty labor intensive proposition. What’s the best way to automate such a process?

And what about followup checks on the advertisments, and the landing pages that they may point to?

A new patent application from Google, published today, describes how such an automated system might work.

Advertisement approval
Inventors: Gregory Joseph Badros, Robert J. Stets, and Lucy Zhang
US Patent Application 20060149623
Published July 6, 2006
Filed: December 30, 2004

Abstract

An advertisement for use with an online ad serving system may be automatically checked for compliance with one or more policies of the online ad serving system. If the advertisement is approved, then it is allowed by be served by the ad serving system. Follow up checks of the advertisement may be scheduled. One follow up check may be to test a landing page of the advertisement for compliance with policies. If the advertisement is not approved, hints for making the ad comply with one or more violated policies may be provided to an advertiser associated with the ad, and/or an ad serving system customer service representative. Determining whether or not to approve the advertisement may include determining violations of one or more policies by the advertisement, and, for each of the violations, determining whether or not to exempt the violation.

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Google Ads on Handheld Devices, For Local Area Advertisements

I’m a big fan of location based web sites for businesses that serve one geographic area, but I find that many of those aren’t optimized very well for search engines, and many of the business owners behind them don’t take steps to make those sites easily found in search engines.

Many of those site owners also don’t seem to consider using paid search advertising to draw more attention to their sites, or their businesses.

A new patent application from Google looks at some of the reasons why local advertising hasn’t taken off on the web, and tries to come up with some solutions, based upon the use of mobile phones, internet connected PDAs, and other handheld devices.

Here are three reasons why the inventors of this patent claim that local advertisers aren’t enthusiastic about advertising on the the web:

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