Search engines look at Relevance and its dynamic nature in ranking web pages. But there’s another element that’s important to consider when looking at how pages are ranked and ordered.
Materiality and Evidence
When evidence is introduced into a civil or criminal case, a judge not only weighs how relevant that evidence might be before it’s turned over to a jury, or before he or she considers it. The judge also decides how material that evidence might be.
For example, a defense attorney might try to introduce good character reference testimony in a case while defending a 30 year-old accused of murder. The testimony is relevant because it’s about the defendent. It goes to show something about him that a finder of facts might find useful. But, what if the person being offered to testify is the defendant’s kindergarden teacher? What if the teachers testimony is about how the defendant would always take his naps on time, played well with the other kids, and never showed signs of anger. While relevant, the testimony just really isn’t material. As testimony about the defendent from around 25 years earlier, it just isn’t that important.
A judge may also look at other factors in deciding whether evidence is material or important enough to enter into a case. One of these is called judicial economy. As an example, let’s say that our accused murderer from the last paragraph committed his crime in the middle of the infield at Yankee stadium in front of a crowd of 50,000 baseball fans. Almost everyone in attendence witnessed the crime. But you won’t see all 50,000 being summons to appear in court to testify. Their testimony is relevant, and material, but it doesn’t serve the best interests of justice to have that many people testifying if they are all going to give substantially the same testimony.
Relevance matters to each of us on a daily basis. It enables us to focus upon the things that are important in our lives. It’s something that each of us learns about everyday, and have been since around the time that we first learned to crawl, but not necessarily consciously.
Relevance and Evidence
I first began purposefully studying relevance a number of years ago, but not to help websites show up in search engines. My introduction to relevance as something I needed to learn, and needed to learn well, came in law school, in classes like Evidence and Criminal and Civil Procedure. In Evidence, we spend the class learning about the rules of evidence. The test for relevance under the Federal Rules of Evidence is:
(a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and
(b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.
Six years ago, Google started showing sitelinks for the top results for many queries. In a recent Google live experiment, Google started showing expanded sitelinks in search results with tabs above those sitelinks showing categories. These experimental results were written about last week by the team at SEO Consult, in the post Google’s New SERP Test: Tabular Mega Sitelinks.
In my last post, I asked the question Will Google Add Categories to Search Results, and Let You Edit Them? I didn’t anticipate Google testing categories within their presentation of sitelinks though. I did notice an interesting new version of an older Google patent published as a pending patent application on categories for AdSense-type advertisements.
The continuation patent filing had a fresh new claims section that detailed how Google might interpret the categories of pages for purposes of showing AdSense advertisements. That process might not be the exact method that Google might classify pages into categories for purposes of sitelinks, or even for the explicit categories that Google could potentially show in search results to enable searchers to limit the results of their queries based upon clicking on those categories. But it does show some possibilities of how Google might classify pages.
Last week, I wrote a post on the Webimax blog about an approach that Google might take in response to the fact that there are often so many results in response to a particular query. The post, How Google May Re-Rank Search Results Based the Context of What You Click, described how Google might re-rank your search results for related followup queries within the same search session. Search for [jaguar] and choose a result related to the Jacksonville football team, and Google might boost results related to the football team or sports in general in your search results within the same search session.
Google might try to use a “Contextual Click Model” like I described in that post, to try to identify related sites within sets of search results. They would do that by looking at its search query log files for search sessions from multiple searchers to cluster those clicks into related categories.
There are other ways that Google might potentially categorize documents that show up in search results. One place that they might look at is knowledge base information tied to search query log information, to create some categories. For example a search for [jaguar] on Wikipedia shows a number of possible topics, including the car, the cat, a band from Iceland, the Jacksonville football team, a Formula One racing team, an Atari game console, a type of Fender guitar, and many others.
When I write about patent filings, they are usually from search engines or social networking sites, or have been acquired by someone like Google or Facebook. I ran across one patent application published this week that instead comes a person offering search engine optimization services. I don’t think it’s possible to do SEO with just automated tools, because there are so many issues on a site that need to be considered and reviewed and often adjusted for a site to be competitive in search results.
Some of those are technical, like handling canonical issues so that you ideally only have one URL per page. Some of those issues involve making marketing decisions, like understanding the audience of a site and the language that they might expect to see on a page about a particular topic. Some may involve things like deciding how the information architecture of a site might be set up, so that it’s easy for visitors to understand where they are on a site, where they can go, and how their situational and informational needs might be addressed on the pages of that site.
Bing has been showing searchers some social annotations and enhancements for a while now, if you were logged into Facebook when searching at Bing, like a friend who might have liked a particular result in Facebook. They started delivering even more social search results in a social sidebar at the beginning of this month, which they announced in their blog post, Social Meets Search with the Latest Version of Bing, Available to Everyone in US Today.
Those search results might seem like a response to Google’s “Search Plus Your World” social search results, though the Bing social results may be more social and more interactive than Google’s social results. A patent application from Microsoft published last week provides some hints as to when they might show social results to searchers based upon some different relevance signals between a person’s current query and their connections, or buddies queries that might have been related. And yes, Bing refers to social connections or friends using the term “Buddies.”
Almost seven years ago, I started thinking about what documents I would recommend that people read if they wanted to learn as much about SEO as possible. SEO by the Sea was a little more than a couple of months old, and I started a series of posts that I called the “100 best SEO documents of all time.” I started the series knowing the first 30 papers, blog posts, and patents that I wanted to include in the series, and somehow never got past those first thirty.
The posts were the three posts immediately before the gathering that originally gave SEO by the Sea its name. I went from blogger to event organizer, and never quite returned back to the series that I started. In the past couple of days, the first post got some attention on Twitter, and I promised to update the series.
The next ten documents are ones that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit after reading them, and what they might mean for the future of search.
A pending Google patent published this past week describes how the locations of entities included in queries might be identified from information found in the search engine’s query logs, based upon click histories and other information. Query log information may also be used to associate locations with websites and web pages.
Are the Empire State Building or the Golden Gate Bridge places, or are they things? A search for just [washington monument] or [eiffel tower] doesn’t actually specify a physical address. Search for the [Statue of Liberty] and chances are that you want the one in the New York Harbor, but if your search was conducted in Paris, France, you might have wanted to see one of the ones in Paris (yes, there’s more than one). There are a number of replicas of the statue world wide.
A search for [concord point lighthouse hotels] returns a number of pages that successfully point out that the lighthouse is in Havre de Grace Maryland, even though my query doesn’t mention the actual location. Is the search engine just finding the most relevant results for those keywords, or is it identifying the location of the lighthouse, and then trying to find web sites that are the best match both for the query term and the location?