How Search Engines Might Divine the Intent behind Regional Queries vs. Global Queries

If you search for “pizza,” or “movie times,” or “division of motor vehicles,” there’s a chance that you might want to find information about where to get pizza near you, or to find what films that local movie theatres or showing, or find out more about driver’s licenses in your area. This is true even if you don’t include a specific location with your search.

The query term you used in your search might be considered to be a “regional sensitive query,” because you want to find information associated with a specific geographical location. That geographic location might be on a country or province level, within a specific region, at a state level, or even in a more narrow area such as within a specific city.

How would a search engine decide whether a specific search term might be “regionally sensitive,” or be a “global query” and have no specific local intent behind it?

A recent patent application from Yahoo explores a number of ways that look at user data related to searches to attempt to identify whether a query is regionally sensitive or doesn’t have some kind of location-based intent behind it.

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Google Barcodes and Place Rank Transforming Local Search

A couple of days ago, the Official Google Blog announced a new way of learning more about locations that you come across, using mobile phones that are capable of taking pictures of, or scanning barcodes.

The post, Explore a whole new way to window shop, with Google and your mobile phone, describes how Google is sending out window decals to “more than 100,000 local businesses in the U.S.” that people can scan or take pictures of with their mobile phones to learn more about those businesses.

Image from Google Barcode Patent showing placement for barcodes for a restaurant, a parking lot, an office building, and a city park.

A patent application assigned to Google was published today which provides a fair amount of detail on how a system like this might work, and goes beyond the use of barcodes for businesses to include parks, government buildings, attractions, and landmarks, as seen in the image above from the patent filing.

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Google Patent Granted on Duplicate Content Detection in a Web Crawler System

Some patents from the search engines provide detailed looks at how those search engines might perform some of the core functions behind how they work. By “core functions,” I mean some of the basics such as crawling pages, indexing those pages, and displaying the results to searchers.

For example, last December I wrote a post titled Google Patent on Anchor Text and Different Crawling Rates, about a Google patent filed in 2003 which gave us a look at how the search engine crawled web pages, and collected the web addresses, or URLs, of pages that it came across.

The patent the post covered was Anchor tag indexing in a web crawler system, and it revealed how Google may determine how frequently it might visit or revisit certain pages, including crawling some pages daily, and others even on a real-time or near real-time basis – every few minutes in some cases. While there’s been a lot of discussion in the past few months online about real-time indexing of web pages, it’s interesting to note that the patent was orginally filed in 2003.

That older patent also covered topics such as how a search engine crawler might handle temporary (302) redirects differently than permanent (301) redirects, by noting and sometimes following the temporary redirects immediately (to make a decision as to what page to show in search results), and collecting the URLs associated with permanent redirects and putting them into a queue where they might be addressed later – up to a week or more later.

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How a Search Engine May Choose Search Snippets

When you search at Google or Yahoo or Bing, you’ll see a set of search results that include a page title, a summary or snippet of the page, and a URL indicating the address of the page.

Often, that combination of title, snippet, and URL will be the deciding factor as to whether or not someone clicks through search results to a page.

The snippet peforms a couple of functions – it gives you a summary of what the page is about, and it shows you the context within which your query terms might appear on a page.

Sometimes a search engine will show you the Meta Description that the publisher of the page has come up with for a page, especially if the Meta Description contains the words found in the query.

Sometimes a search engine will show you a description that isn’t even found on the page, if it decides that the page is relevant for a query but the description for the page at the Yahoo Directory or DMOZ makes a better snippet than the meta description or any of the content found on the page.

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Google to Upgrade its Memory? Assigned Startup MetaRAM’s Memory Chip Patents

In August, the Official Google Blog announced an upgrade to Google’s infrastructure code-named Caffeine, aimed at making the search engine faster, and Google opened the system up for testing to people who might want to provide feedback. An interview with one of the developers behind the upgrade described it as an upgrade to the Google File System.

While looking around the US Patent Office assignment database this morning, I noticed a number of new patents and patent applications assigned to Google on November 18, 2009, originally granted to startup MetaRAM.

If a search engine wanted to seriously upgrade its capabilities, it might do more than upgrade its software. It might also upgrade the hardware that it uses. The technology detailed in the MetaRAM patents could potentially transform Google’s computing capacity dramatically.

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How Google Might Insert Artificial Named Anchors into Web Pages

Usually, when you click on a link in a set of search results at Google, the search engine will deliver you to the top of a web page. But what if it didn’t? What if it brought you instead to the place on a page where your query terms appeared, or just above those words?

For example, say you searched for [pizza 94043], and the page appearing at the top of Google’s search results included a list of pizza places, including one pizzeria at that zip code halfway down the page. How would you feel if when you arrived at the page, your browser brought you to the part of the page where that pizza place showed up?

A patent application published today from Google explores how the search engine might insert artificial anchors into pages, to deliver searchers to destinations within web pages, pdf files, word files, spreadsheets, and other documents, rather than just to the tops of those documents.

Below the Fold Design Implications?

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Patent Shows Google Book Scanning a Musical Process

Google was granted a patent today on one aspect of a book scanning process that raises the question what kind of music helps someone scan books best.

The patent is Pacing and error monitoring of manual page turning operator (US Patent 7,619,784), which lists Joseph K. O’Sullivan, R. Alexander Proudfoot, and Christopher R. Uhlik as inventors. Note the cameras and speakers above a book in a scanning cradle, in the image below from the patent:

Images from US Patent 7,619,784, granted to Google, showing a book in a cradle with cameras and speakers in a top image, and a person sitting at a manual scanning desk in a bottom image.

The patent was originally filed on June 30, 2003, and describes how a musical tempo might be used to help someone manually turning pages while scanning books. The abstract from the patent reads as follows:

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Search Taxonomies and Search Engines: Answering Questions vs. Indexing Webpages

If you were to search for [Ronald Reagan Movies] at Google or Yahoo or Bing, would you expect to see a list of movies that the former President and actor appeared in?

It’s more likely that you would see a set of web pages that contain the words “Ronald” and “Reagan” and “Movies,” which might contain the names of films starring the former politician and thespian.

A patent application from Yahoo published last week explores ways to return information directly to searchers, based upon building taxonomies of information about specific people, places, and things, gathered from information found on web pages, rather than having searchers look through multiple web pages to find answers to queries such as “Ronald Reagan movies.”

Both Yahoo and Google do some question answering when faced with certain queries that involve “named entities,” or the names of well-known people, places, and things. For example, search at either search engine for [Babe Ruth birthplace], and above the web pages on the search results pages appears an answer to that question:

Google search result showing Babe Ruth's Place of Birth.

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