Google Forum Search Results Show More Information
Sometimes when you search at Google, forum search results shown may include additional information, such as how many posts are in a thread, how many authors participated, and when the last post happened, like in the following search snippet:
If you’ve seen those forum search results and wondered why Google forum search results might include that kind of information, you’re not alone. I’ve been wondering as well.
A recent Google patent application provides some details on why Google is showing that kind of information, how they identify discussion threads, and the kinds of information they may potentially show in forum search results.
Providing Posts to Discussion Threads in Response to a Search Query
Invented by Tomislav Nad and Jonathan Wilson
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20100030753
Published February 4, 2010
Filed: July 31, 2009
What is in a Forum Search Results Thread in SERPs
According to the patent filing, the kinds of information that might be shown in forum search results from a discussion thread could include:
- Times when most of the posts happened on the discussion forum,
- Authors that posted most of the posts.
- Number of authors that posted,
- The time of the most recent post,
- Number of posts made by the same author, and;
- Number of replies to posts.
The real question, though, is why? Why show these different kinds of forum search results when they involve a “discussion thread?”
One advantage of showing these results is that they provide a searcher with an “integrated view of a discussion thread that may include many relevant posts, which might otherwise be web pages in the results provided by the search engine.”
The Importance of Showing Discussion Threads
Google could have been showing searchers separate posts from a discussion thread. They might treat those as separate pages in search results. But, Google is highlighting that search results are from a discussion from many authors and may contain more than one relevant result to a query.
It’s also possible that Google may also show links to additional discussion threads on the same forum under the first snippet that may also be relevant to what a searcher was looking for.
The Google forum search results patent also provides us with a fairly wide definition of what a discussion thread might be, including:
- A blog that can receive comments from viewers;
- A threaded discussion in which messages that share a common theme such as a subject,
- A micro-blog in which “users send brief updates that include text, audio, images, and the like, for publishing.”
- and the like.
We’re also given hints about what Google looks for to determine whether a page is on the web and might be a discussion thread.
One criterion the search engine may look for is certain keywords on a page, such as “forum,” “subject,” “thread,” “post,” “posted by,” “reply,” and so on.
Another signal involved looking at the web page’s structure to see if it is “characteristic of pages that include posts to discussion threads.” Those could include dates and times when posts took place, user names associated with those posts, links back to a forum home page, and similar indications that a page is hosting a discussion.
Forum Search Results Conclusion
It’s not unusual to see search results containing maps, images, news, blog results. Other kinds of information are from many of Google’s vertical searches. These include Google Maps and Google News. If you have looked at Google’s specialized search for Groups, you may have seen that they include “Google Groups” (and old USENET group) threads. They also contain results from forums across the Web. Those use the kinds of search snippets described in this patent filing.
One of the most interesting aspects of this patent filing is the definition of “discussion thread,” which includes forums and blogs with comments and microblogs. That could be something to watch out for in the future possibly.