10 Most Important SEO Patents: Part 1 – The Original PageRank Patent Application

I like looking at patents and whitepapers and other primary sources from search engines to help me in my practice of SEO. I’ve been writing about them for more than 5 years now, and am putting together this series of the 10 Most important SEO patents to share some of what I’ve learned during that time. These aren’t patents about SEO, but rather ones that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning more about SEO by looking at patents from sources like Google or Microsoft or Yahoo.

The first PageRank patent application was never published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), it was never assigned to a particular company or organization, and it was never granted. It avoids dense legal language and mathematics that can make reading patents difficult, and it captures the excitement of a candidate Ph.D. student, Larry Page, who has just come up with a breakthrough in indexing webpages that had the potential to be a vast improvement over other search engines at the time it was published.

The top of the cover letter for the provisional patent filing for PageRank.

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Expanded Snippets, Google’s Instant Previews, and the Costs and Benefits of Making Changes

The decision process that you go through when deciding to make changes to your site can be tough. Even if those changes are likely necessary and needed, determining the best way to implement them can make you pause, and spend a lot of time considering all the potential alternatives that you might have. You can do a cost/benefit analysis, where you consider how much change you might make to your site, what the benefits of making that change might be, and what the costs might be in both making the change and deciding not to do so.

It shouldn’t require much thought to do things like make your website more usable, but it can, especially if the changes you make change around the look and feel of your pages, and the way that people interact with them. A good example are the changes taking place at Google, where the search engine has implemented a number of new design elements over the past year or so, including new colors and formatting of their search results pages, a different look to how local search results are presented within Web search results, URLs now appearing under page titles and above snippets for pages, and Instant Previews, which show a thumbnail of a page and call out boxes of text showing where query terms appear within those thumbnails.

On the subject of those Instant Previews, one of the challenges that search engines face is presenting web pages returned from a search in a way that helps searchers locate the information they want to find. A typical search result for a web page includes a page title, a URL for the page, and a short snippet that might be taken from a meta description or from text found on the page itself. A searcher is shown a page filled with these document representions to choose from, but sometimes that’s not enough to make a decision as to what page to click through.

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Twitter Differences in Different Countries

If you’ve never used Twitter before, it can be a little intimidating when you’re first starting out. You’re faced with a message on the front page of the site telling you to “Follow your interests,” and promising “instant updates from your friends, industry experts, favorite celebrities, and what’s happening around the world.”

Then you sign up, and you’re faced with an empty text box with a question above it asking you “What’s Happening?” You have no friends added yet, you’re not following any industry experts or favorite celebrities, and there’s no news about what’s happening around the world. But you might see tweets in more languages than just English, according to a whitepaper presented last month.

Languages used in Tweets by people in the most active countries to use Twitter from a Yahoo Study.

The site does have ways to help you search for and find people to follow and interact with, and will recommend people to follow in a few places, but trying to figure out exactly what to say in that box that asks “what’s happening,” isn’t that easy. I remember spending more than a couple of days trying to figure that out myself.

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Are You Trusted by Google?

Are you a robot? A spammer? A sock puppet? A trusted author and content developer? A trusted agent in the eyes of Google? (More on trusted agents below.)

When you interact on a social network, or write a review online or update information to an internet mapping service, how much does the service you are using trust the content that you add, or the changes that you might make?

These aren’t rhetorical questions, but rather ones at the heart of approaches from services like Google Web search and Google Maps, which are focusing more and more upon social signals and social collaboration to provide the information that they do to the public.

If you’ve seen a +1 button within Google’s search results or on a site, and you’ve clicked upon it, or shared a page or post or site in Google Plus with others, you’ve engaged in endorsing the work of the author who created that site. How much weight does Google give that endorsement?

If you find an error on a Google Place page, such as an incorrect phone number or bad street address, and you take the time to try to correct that, what process might Google go through to decide if you’re telling the truth?

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How Automated Evaluations Might Help Decide Upon Rankings for Search Results at Google

A number of years back, I remember being humbled by a homework assignment crayon drawing by a friend’s son which listed what he was thankful for, and included his parents, his sister, and shoes that Thanksgiving. We take so much for granted that we should be thankful that we have. A few friends and I had gathered over my friend’s house, and we were all knocked somewhat silent by the picture when he proudly showed it off to his father. Thank you to everyone who stops by here to read, to learn, to share, and to add to the discussion. Thank you too, for the chance to share the things I find and the things that I learn from you all.

On Monday, I wrote about a recently granted patent from Google that described How Human Evaluators Might Help Decide Upon Rankings for Search Results at Google. Interestingly, this week Google was granted a patent that describes an automated method they might use to check the quality of specific sets of search results.

When Google responds to a searcher’s query, it presents a list of pages and other kinds of documents such as images or news or videos. The patent’s filing date is from before Google’s universal search but probably does a good job of describing something Google might do with web page based search results.

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How Human Evaluators Might Help Decide Upon Rankings for Search Results at Google

A Google patent granted last week describes how the search engine might enable people to experiment with changing the weight and value of different ranking signals for web pages to gauge how those changes might influence the quality of search results for specific queries. The patent lists Misha Zatsman, Paul G. Haahr, Matthew D. Cutts, and Yonghui Wu amongst its inventors, and doesn’t provide much in the way of context as to how this evaluation system might be used. As it’s written, it seems like something the search engine could potentially make available to the public at large, but I’m not sure if they would do that.

In the blog post Google Raters – Who Are They?, Potpiegirl writes about the manual reviewers used by Google to evaluate the relevance and quality of search results by parsing through a forum where people have been discussing their experiences as reviewers for Google search results and collecting information about how the review program works. It contains some interesting information about the processes used by people who have been working to provide human evaluations for Google’s results, including a discussion of two different types of reviews that they participate in. One of those involves being given a particular keyword and a URL, and deciding how relevant that page is for that keyword. The other involves being given two different sets of search results for the same query, and deciding which set of results provides the best results for the query term.

A screenshot from a Google patent describing a framework for evaluation search results generated using different scoring weights.

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The Integration of Social Media into Search Results and Rankings: Internet Summit 2011

I gave a presentation on SEO and Social Media at the Internet Summit 2011, in Raleigh NC yesterday, in an Advanced SEO session with Lindsay Wassell, Michael Marshall, and Markus Renstrom – head SEO of Yahoo! Daryl Hemeon has a nice write-up of the presentations at Advanced SEO – Internet Summit Day 2 Notes.

I included a number of links and references within the presentation that we didn’t visit or spend time on, for anyone who might want to visit those for more details. The basic premise behind my presentation was that Social Media has changed the expectations of searchers and the search engines have had no recourse but to change in response, and SEO likewise is evolving to meet those expectations.

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Patent Filings from Google’s Acquisition of Apture and Katango: Highlighted Search, YouTube Sliders, and Intelligent Social Media Agents?

Imagine being able to highlight any text on a web page and search the Web based upon that text? Or an easier way to embed videos or other content in windows that will appear and open up without launching a new browser window.

Now imagine that your Google Plus Circles could engage in friend relationship management, being better at self organizing by grouping people whom you add to your Google Plus Account by whether they are co-workers, or if they live nearby, or the kind of company they work for, or the school that they went to or many other ways that might make circle management smarter and a little more fun. Now imagine that the technology behind that involves the use of intelligent social media agents that keep an eye on the social activity of your contacts.

Google revealed last Thursday that they acquired a couple of companies, seemingly both for the expertise and knowledge of the people employed by those companies and the technology that they have developed. I found the patent filings that have been assigned to both companies to try to get a deeper glimpse at some of the technologies that both companies have developed.

One of the companies that Google acquired is Apture, a business started by Tristan Harris and Can Sar, a couple of Stanford students in 2007. The Apture Website notes that the Apture team will be joining Google’s Chrome Team. That makes sense since Apture specializes in making browser experiences richer by proving text boxes that pop-out when you click upon links on a page. Apture was supplying these types of features for a number of partner sites as well as a plugin that would work with Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

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Getting Information about Search, SEO, and the Semantic Web Directly from the Search Engines