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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.

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Crowdsourcing Behind New Apple Local Search Patent

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.”

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How Google Might Introduce Job, Recipe, and Other Search Modes into Web Search Results

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.

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Google Picks Up Hardware and Media Patents from Outland Research

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.

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Google’s New Sentiment Phrase Snippets for Google Places

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 part of a place page for a pizzeria in NYC with sentiment phrase snippets highlighted that include phrases such as: love this place, arugula salad, old fashioned square, friendly and attentive, and by the glass.

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).

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Google Patents Seeing with your Hand

It’s not related to search, or to SEO, but it’s one of the more unusual and interesting patents that I’ve seen come out of Google in a while, and Google Founder Sergey Brin is listed as one of the co-inventors. Google was granted a patent today on a device that could allow someone to view their surroundings through their hands or other parts of their body, with using a detector that might be channeled to a wearable display.

This new patent might in part explain why Google acquired the patent I described in “Google Acquires Swimming Goggle Patent.” While the swimming goggle patent is interesting in its own right, and I’d love to see a version that could be used when jogging or bicycling, it’s also the kind of wearable viewing display that could be used with this alternative viewing device.

As a device on a glove, a control for the viewing device might be built into the glove so that a predetermined motion might trigger the use of the viewing detector. The patent allows for the viewing device to be located elsewhere on a body as well, so for example, the idea of having eyes in the back of your head might not be unreasonable.

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Possible New Google Search Result Annotations

Google’s web search results have gone through a number of transformations over the years, from the additions of images and maps and videos and other kinds of results from Google’s vertical search respositories, to an autocomplete dropdown of query refinement suggestions and automatically updating results based upon those suggestions in Google Instant. Google has shown a link to a cached copy of many pages for years, in case a page you’re trying to visit isn’t presently available. Google introduced thumbnail previews that you can start seeing if you click upon a magnifying glass next to one of the results.

If you’re logged into your Google Account, you can see other information in Google search results as well, such as a +1 button that you can click upon to vote for a page, and a display of other people whom you are connected to somehow who have clicked upon that plus button. It’s quite likely that Google will continue to experiment with other information that you might be able to see in search results as well.

A screenshot showing search results with annotations in them showing the date of a last visit to a page, and the addition of a new page to previously seen search results.

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Early Google Panda Patents

Might Google lower the rankings of a page in search results if it detects unusual patterns related to clicks on advertisements on that page, or might Google use a ranking algorithm that can be tested against such unusual click patterns to lower the rankings of pages in search results? A Google patent granted today is the first that I can recall seeing that suggests that information about clicks on ads might cause pages to be lowered in web search rankings or removed from search results altogether:

Once the document engine 146 determines the likelihood that an article is a manipulated article, the method 400 ends. The likelihood that an article is a manipulated article can be used in a variety of ways. For example, the information that an article is likely a manipulated article can be used to lower a ranking associated with that article such that the article will be displayed lower in a listing of search results or not displayed at all*.

Alternatively, the information that an article is likely a manipulated article can be used to test ranking algorithms.*

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Getting Information about Search and SEO Directly from the Search Engines