When you try to gauge how effective your website is, you may decide upon certain metrics to measure its impact. Those may differ based upon the objectives of your pages, but could include things like how many orders you receive for products you might offer, how many phone calls you receive inquiring about your services, how many people signup for newsletters or subscribe to your RSS or click upon ads on your pages. They could include whether people link to your pages, or tweet or +1 articles or blog posts that you’ve published. You may start looking at things like bounce rates on pages that have calls to action intended to have people click upon other links on that page. You could consider how long people tend to stay upon your pages. There are a range of things you could look at and measure (and take action upon) to determine how effective your site might be.
A search engine is no different in that the people who run it want to know how effective their site is. A patent granted to Yahoo today explores how the search engine might evaluate pages ranking in search results for different queries, and looks at a range of possible measurements that it might use. While this patent is from Yahoo, expect that Google and Bing are doing some similar things. And while Bing is providing search data for Yahoo, that doesn’t mean that Yahoo’s results might not be presented and formatted differently than Bing’s results, and include additional or different content as well. As a matter of fact, Yahoo recently updated its search results pages.
One of the problems or issues that you might run into when attempting to see how well your site works is determining how well the metrics you’ve chosen to measure that might work. A problem that plagues large sites is that they are so large that it can be difficult to determine which metrics work best. Yahoo’s approach uses a machine learning approach to determining the effectiveness of different “search success” metrics.
In what feels like a case of deja vu, Google has recorded the acquisition of at least 1,022 patents from International Business Machines in August of this year (there’s a 1,023rd patent listed in the USTPO assignment database as well, but the patent number appears to be wrong). The USPTO recording date for the transaction is September 13, 2011, and the execution date on the document is August 17th, 2011. I wrote about a previous acquisition of patents by Google from IBM earlier this year in the post, Google Acquires Over 1,000 IBM Patents in July
As I noted in the earlier post, Google had lost a bidding match earlier this year for more than 6,000 patent filings from Nortel to a collective formed of Apple, Microsoft, Research in Motion, Ericsson, Sony, and EMC. That doesn’t seem to have stopped them from dipping from the same well a second time to acquire more intellectual property from IBM. Google has also recently acquired a very large number of patents from the purchase of Motorola Mobility.
Last week, Google sold nine patents to HTC to help them pursue a patent infringement case against Apple. Some of the patents that were transferred to HTC were acquired by Google last year when Google purchased them from Myriad Group, which I wrote about in December.
I may have been a little unusual as an English major in my college days. I remember one professor asking me what I found interesting about a particular author we were studying, and my answer was about patterns involving the language that he used, and how he tended to frequently use certain words that were no longer much in fashion these days. He asked for an example, and I pointed out the use of the word “singular.” I could tell that he found my point a little odd, and I wish that the Google Books N-Gram Viewer was around back in those days to back up my statement . As a side note, I wish I could have taken a class or two with HITS algorithm inventor Jon Kleinberg, who probably would have appreciated my response.
I point that out because I recall some unusual phrasings by search engineers at a large search conference I attended a few years back where most of the search marketers were using the term “ranking factors,” and all of the search engineers who gave presentations and participated in question and answer sessions instead used the term “signals.” I wasn’t the only one who noticed the phrasing, and someone called one of the search engine representatives on his use of the term, upon which a Google representative responded, and was seconded by the Yahoo and Microsoft reps, that they preferred to use the term “signal” instead of “factor.”
Much like in my college days, I find myself a little obsessed with the language used in the search patents I read. If Google would point their N-Gram viewer at the USTPO’s database of patents, that would be a great thing. There are a few terms that I keep on seeing spring up in some Google patents that I’ve been finding pretty interesting lately.
My little town of Warrenton, Virginia, started off life not as a destination, but rather as a convenient stopping point between other destinations. In the late 1700s, it had a road running through it between Falmouth, a port town on the Rappahanock River, and Winchester, an early European settlement and frontier town where once a 17 year-old George Washington was offical surveyor in the area. That road crossed paths at the place where Warrenton would grow with a road between Alexandria and Culpeper, Virginia.
At the crossroads, a trading post was set up, known as the Red Store (the original building has been incorporated into a larger building, and still exists on Main Street in Warrenton). A blacksmith shop and an inn or two also came into existence, and the commerce in the area originally existed primarily to serve those who were traveling down one of the roads or another.
Others started settling into the area, and a decision was made to set up a Courthouse at this crossroads, and a County to manage governance of the land. The town grew up around the crossroads until the late 1960s, when a bypass brought traffic around the center of town, as well as moving the focus of much of the commerce in the area. The Old Town section of Warrenton is still host to a number of stores, but many of those passing through the area no longer have to travel its hilly and narrow streets.
A new patent application from Apple describes how they might incorporate user information data into ranking locations in their map application searches. This probably has some implications for businesses that rely upon services like Google Maps and Google Place pages to bring visitors to their shops and offices, and I thought it was worth exploring the Apple patent in more detail. It appears that in some instances, certain types of applications might be better suited for sharing information than search, and a rich smartphone environment might be one of those when it comes to local maps.
A couple of years back, Google researchers published a study titled Computers and iPhones and Mobile Phones, oh my! A logs-based comparison of search users on different devices (pdf) where they explored how people used different devices to connect to the Web, and looked at the kinds of queries that they performed.
One conclusion in the paper was that search behavior on desktop computers and on iPhones were more similar than on other types of mobile phones. In an area where the researchers expected some differences between what people searched for on an iPhone compared to a desktop computer was local search type queries, with the expectation that there would be a good deal more location based searches on the mobile devices. But, in what they called one of the most surprising conclusions of the study, they found that there were only “1.7% more local queries issued from an iPhone than from a computer.”
I recently participated in the creation of a book about SEO named Critical Thinking for the Discerning SEO, where Sheldon Campbell, also known as Doc Sheldon, asked 31 internet marketers a series of questions about internet work focusing upon how critical thinking plays a role in what they do. One of the questions that Doc asked was:
If you could mandate just one change to the dynamics of search ranking, what would that change be?
In my answer, I described how Google might make search results more interactive by allowing searchers to decide which algorithm they might use to search with, describing different search modes that a searcher could use when they were looking for results that might be relevant to them.
Google was recently assigned a number of unusual and interesting patents from Outland Research, LLC, from inventor Louis B. Rosenberg, a Stanford PhD, Cal Polytech Professor on leave, and most recently professional film maker. A number of Rosenberg’s inventions have been developed into commercial products found in BMW automobiles, surgical similators and medical imaging systems, and computer mice from Logitech, as well as a 3D animation tool used on films such as Shrek and Ice Age.
It appears that Louis Rosenberg now spends more time as a screenwriter with his company Outland Pictures than as an inventor, but there are a good number of patents at the US Patent and Trademark Office assigned to Outland Research. A number of those showed up recently in the USPTO’s patent assignment database as having been assigned to Google, with an execution date of August 1, 2011, and an assignment recording date of August 29, 2011.
These patents cover a wide range of inventions, but none of them really involve search. In addition to an alternative game controller or computer input device, there’s another patent that describes controlling electronic devices by looking at them and commanding them. Another watches where you’re looking on a computer or ebook reader to save your place if you look away or switch documents. A pair of the Outland Research patents provide ways to use your cell phone to collaboratively rate or reject songs that might be played in restaurants or nightclubs. A series of other patents add enhancements to cell phones and/or media players such as the ability for a group of people to run their own collaborative radio station, or to shake a media player in a certain way to change songs or playlists.
When you look at web page search results for a Web search, there are usually three important elements displayed for each page. One is the page title, which also acts as a link to the page. Another is the URL of the page, which sometimes gives you a hint of what you might find at the page if the URL shows a meaningful directory category or two for the page.
The third element is a snippet of text for the page, which provides a description of some type for what you might find on the page. This is sometimes taken from the meta description for the page if it contains the keywords you searched for or possibly a synonym for one or more keywords, or often some text from the page itself if that snippet of text contains the keywords or synonyms for those. Snippets aren’t limited solely to Web search results, and recently a new type of snippet has been showing on Google Place Pages, as highlighted in the image below:
A Google patent granted this week provides a detailed look at short snippets like these related to businesses and products, and gives us some insights into what the people at Google may be thinking about when they come up with the snippets. This type of snippet was the topic of a blog post from Mike Blumenthal titled Google Places Descriptor Snippets. I’m not sure that I like the name “Descriptor” from Mike’s name to describe them – it reminds me of Transformers for some reason (or would that be “descripticon” snippets).