Direct Answers – Natural Language Search Results for Intent Queries

In November, Google published an international patent that describes providing natural language type answers to queries.

Those answers focus less upon finding pages on the Web about those queries, and more on Natural Language results for the queries.

Here’s an example, from the patent filing of a set of natural language answers to a query about “symptoms of mono”.

Natural Language results on a query for 'Symptoms of Mono' from authoritative sources.
Natural Language results on a query for ‘Symptoms of Mono’ from authoritative sources.

The patent has a number of interesting and complex issues, and rather than trying to cover it all in one day, I’m planning on breaking it down into five parts to start the year off.

SEO by the Sea will be relocating to the west coast next week, and posting might be a little light at the start of the week, so this series is intended to kick the year off with a look at how Google has been combining both web page indexing and ranking with data indexing, like in the search result example above.

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Have a Magical Christmas, and a Happy New Year

In the days leading up to Christmas, Barbara Starr sent me a link to a patent with a note that it would make a tremendous Christmas blog post. I absolutely agreed, and am writing and sharing that post with you now.

This animation of my great nephew hiding from the camera is a memorable moment for me.
This animation of my Great Nephew hiding from the camera is a memorable moment for me.

When you see a patent where it’s based upon sharing joy and happiness, it is the kind of thing that makes you want to share, and to find more like it. In this case, it’s a patent that Google acquired when they purchased Nik Software in 2012, so that it could be used with Google Plus, to automatically edit some photos into animations and into stories.

The particular patent that Barbara sent me a link to is Automatic identification of a notable moment. This seemed to be the passage that we both found interesting in the patent, and commented upon to each other almost simultaneously: Continue reading Have a Magical Christmas, and a Happy New Year

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A Replacement for PageRank?

Representatives from Google announced recently that they would no longer be updating their PageRank toolbar annotations for web pages. Google had been updating those 3-4 times a year for over a decade.

Does this news indicate that Google is no longer using PageRank, or that PageRank has changed in some significant way? (The ranking signal isn’t the toolbar annotation itself, which was too infrequently updated to be an accurate reflection of what PageRank might have been for a page)

We've been told that Google will no longer be updating this annotation or proxy for PageRank.
We’ve been told that Google will no longer be updating this annotation or proxy for PageRank.

Could it be a sign that Google has found something different?

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Which Sea For SEO by the Sea?

SEO by the Sea started out as an idea that found its way into my head as I was watching sails bounce up and down, though a window, on the Chesapeake Bay.

Carlsbad Village Beach
Carlsbad Village Beach

I’ve been looking at some different waters over the last week, thousands of miles away.

A Public Beach Access information sign provides details about nearby beaches.
A Public Beach Access information sign provides details about nearby beaches.

These beaches aren’t much like the Jersey shore I grew up with. But they are pretty nice.

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How a Search Engine Might Use Entities to Respond to Compositional Queries

A compositional query may be aimed at providing a data point to identify another related data point as an answer or solution to that query.

For example, the following two queries are compositional queries and focus upon an answer at a fixed location or a fixed point of time:

  • [Starbucks near San Francisco Airport]
  • [Films shot during World War II]
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Oliver Wendell Holmes

The approach in this Google patent can involve determining a first entity type (the San Francisco Airport or World War II from our examples), a second entity type(Starbucks or Films), and a relationship responding to a compositional query (Starbucks near the airport, and Movies filmed during WWII).

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Insightful Connections Between Entities on Google’s Knowledge Graph

We’re used to search engines matching the keywords we query, returning pages that contain those words.

But what if search engines worked differently?

It seems like search engines are starting to do that, with more direct answers to searches that show up as a fact, appearing at the top of a set of search results in an “answer box”. And those questions are sometimes something more than just “what’s the weather like in Warrenton, Virginia?”

An answer box appears in response to this query, but a direct question may produce more interesting responses.
An answer box appears in response to this query, but a direct question may produce more interesting responses.

Instead of indexing pages on the web, and what those pages contain, search engines can be used to search other data sources, such as a data graph. Or knowledge bases at Google, through Google’s Knowledge Graph.

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Google’s Query Language

There’s a “Greenway park” near me, built where a train had previously roamed for over 100 years. The park is narrow and not much wider than the width of railroad cars. It cuts a nice path for local residents to use to walk across town, and it’s a relaxing trail to parks and schools and to walk a dog. Which is good since that rail mode of transportation has been replaced mostly by the automobile.

Sometimes the signs we see have meaning, and sometimes there's no train to be found nearby at all.
Sometimes the signs we see have meaning, and sometimes there’s no train to be found nearby at all.

Former Google search engineer Andrew Hogue, now the head of search at Foursquare, was in charge of a project at Google called the Annotation Framework project.

He put together a team in the mid-2000s who pursued patents on a range of related topics involving something called a browseable fact repository, which would later grow into Google’s Knowledge Graph.

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Google Patent on Ads with Named Entities

In the start of a patent granted at Google from this past September, Entity-based searching with content selection, we’re told that:

Implementations of the systems and methods for entity-based searching with content selection are described herein.

The phrase “content selection,” when it appears in Google patents, doesn’t often refer to site owners creating content on their web sites, but usually to the creation of advertisements and landing pages that people might create to show as search results or pages on their sites that are associated with those ads.

This is one of the first few patents I’ve seen from Google that ties together the Semantic Web and Paid Search, including one described in Barbara Starr’s article on Search Engine Land from last week, where she points to Google’s patent for Product Search and how queries and attributes related to products within those queries can be used by Google to help identify the appropriate pages to which searchers may be delivered.

That article is titled Understanding Question/Query Answering In Search & How It Relates To Your Website. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, you should.

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