Google Search Result Annotations

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Search Results Annotations at Google

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 repositories to an autocomplete dropdown of query refinement suggestions. 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. Google is also showing other search results annotations.

If you’re logged into your Google Account, you can see other information in Google search results as well. 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 annotations in them like the date of the last visit to a page, and the addition of a new page to previously seen search results.

A patent application published by Google this week explores some additional search results annotations that you might be able to see, such as whether or not you’ve previously visited a specific page and possibly the date of your last visit, how many times you’ve visited the page, and the queries that you used to find the page, if they are different from the query you used to see the page this time in search results. In addition to displaying informative search results annotations, Google might also provide you with some options such as the ability to only see pages that you haven’t visited before during a particular search or only the pages that you have seen.

Google allows you to restrict your searches to specific sites using a special “site” search operator like this [], and will also sometimes provide links in search results during searches without the use of special site operator where you can see “more results” from the same domain.

Imagine if Google provided options within the search results for that specific domain to restrict the results you see to pages that you’ve previously viewed, or pages that you haven’t see yet, or pages that you’ve viewed within a specific period of time, such as the last 7 days.

So for instance, on an auction site, Google might annotate search results to tell you which of the auctions listed you’ve seen before, when you viewed them, and even if you’ve submitted a bid on one of those auctions. Likewise, for results on a forum site or blog, the search results might tell you when you visited specific forum threads or blog posts.

The search results annotations patent filing is:

Search Annotation and Personalization Services
Invented by Taylor N. Van Vleet, Yu-Shan Fung, Ruben Ortega, Udi Manber
US Patent Application 20110208711
Published August 25, 2011
Filed: April 29, 2011


Various features are disclosed for storing and providing access to event data reflective of user-generated events, including events associated with search query submission of users. One such feature enables users to annotate search results, to later recall and view these annotations, and to publish the annotations to other users.

Another feature involves recording event data reflective of search result viewing events of users, and using this event data to personalize search results pages for particular users.

The patent goes into a great amount of detail on how such a search results annotation system might work, including information about the collection of usage information in search results such as mouse-clicks, mouse-overs, impressions for specific pages, times and queries associated with those actions, and more.

One interesting aspect of this invention is that it provides searchers with the ability to share their annotations with other searchers as well.


It’s been an interesting week at SEO by the Sea, with an earthquake centered about 60 miles south of here shaking things up earlier in the week, and a possible visit from Hurricane Irene this weekend. This is one time when I’m actually happy that SEO by the Sea isn’t as close to the sea as it has been in the past.

We’re likely to see Google continue to experiment with many different additions to search results in the future, and different capabilities that searchers might be able to take advantage of.

I think it would be great to be able to see annotations about pages and sites that I’ve visited previously in search results. We’re seeing Google add some features to search results as part of Google Plus, such as the ability to share pages that you plus with others and post about them on Google Plus – see Doing more with the +1 button, more than 4 billion times a day.

Google has also created some new HTML markup that you can add to pages on your site that might be used when people share content from your pages, which they describe on the Google Webmaster Central blog in Making the most of improvements to the +1 button.

These new additions make it clear that Google is interested not only in annotations on search results but also in social annotations for pages that potentially may become visible within search results as well as on their social network.

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21 thoughts on “Google Search Result Annotations”

  1. well happy friday Bill,

    I actually saw these changes almost a week and half ago…
    was doing a search for “(country) hotels” then i did a search for “(city)hotels”

    i saw under the tripadvisor website “You recently search for (country)”

    i tried to duplicate on different queries other than travel vertical but no luck

  2. This is just the explanation I have been waiting for on how Google+ will effect search rankings. I have been trying to tell people that it will happen, but some people still don’t feel a social media site has any effect on search rankings – even though Google has explicitly said they take social authority into account. I figure, if it’s a Google product, you know Google will favor sites being shared on it.

  3. Being reminded of sites and areas of an individual site I have previously visited is very helpful. It seems like there would need to be a balance in showing results of previously viewed pages along with never before visited pages or we may miss out on content which may be even more relevant to our searches. Newly created pages may actually be more relevant than previously viewed pages.

  4. I’ve seen this a few days ago which makes me wonder exactly what other changes have got in store for us. I find some of their newly implemented features user friendly, but others just annoying.

  5. More and more apps offer a personalized experience, and I agree, it will be great if Google could personalize your searched. For the time being this may not seem as feasible, but for sure the near future will prove otherwise.

  6. I never search by after login the Google account. Thanks for noticing me to know about the updates in the search results. Seems that +1 button has great impact on search engine ranking.

  7. @Tessa: are you saying that you never search Google when you are logged into your account? I am assuming it is due to privacy concerns. As a privacy researcher, I am interested in your thoughts on that, if you don’t mind sharing.

  8. Well I hope you did not have any Irene issues. Up here in Canada, we just had heavy wind.

    All of those search options would be great. I like the idea of turning on filters to stop seeing certain pages etc. But that could be a bad thing if your company happens to get flagged by a lot of people.

  9. Hi Bill,

    Glad you managed to get through both the earthquake and Irene unscathed.

    The annotated search result and option to filter search results by previously visited sites sounds like a pretty good way for sites that cover a wide range of topics to gain credibility in certain sectors.

    It also seems like it would help with the user experience too – being able to only include results from the past 7 days or other defined period would mean be great for keeping up to date with changes to blogs etc.

    The addition of recommended results from google+ is a good way of adding further credibility to searches. It all sounds pretty good to me!

    BTW – I hope the Raleigh SEO Meetup goes well tonight!

  10. Hi Wissam,

    Thanks. It’s really good to hear that you managed to see one of these annotations. I’ve been trying to remember to keep an eye out for them, but I can’t say that I’ve noticed any in the wild. SEObook did publish a screenshot of one in a recent post, so that was good to see as well.

  11. Hi Lori,

    I agree completely that it’s much more likely that Google will rely upon social signals from their own social network since the have more knowledge and control over the data surrounding those signals. You need to be logged into your Google Account to plus something, and to participate at Google Plus. Because of that, Google can track your interactions and give different weights to different +1’s based upon who clicked the button.

  12. Hi Kevin,

    The patent does describe the possibility of showing you an annotation for a site that you’ve visited before and a different annotation that might be new to a set of search results for a search that you’ve performed before. I like both options, but haven’t seen either live before. Will Google or won’t Google add those types of annotations? I’m not sure.

  13. Hi Barry,

    I think it’s realistic to assume that Google tracks what the impact of annotations like this might be when they add them. For instance, I suspect that not a lot of people “starred” pages when they found them in search results and liked them, which may be why those stars disappeared. Then again, maybe they went away because Google thought showing a +1 button might be a better idea, especially now that when you click on one of those you can share it with people in your circles at Google Plus.

  14. Hi Tessa and Zach,

    I usually don’t perform searches while logged into my Google Account either. Privacy is one of the reasons that I have for doing that, though I know that Google can track my movements through the Toolbar and through cookies.

  15. Hi Dan,

    I’m not so sure that we haven’t seen these types of annotations from Google because of the technical challenges involved, but rather because Google may have other things in mind, such as doing more with the plus button and with instant previews.

  16. Hi MIchael,

    I did have a large branch come down during the storm over my sidewalk, which fortunately missed me. Good to hear that Irene’s impact was a lot more limited for you.

    The filters sound like they might be useful. I’m not sure that Google will aggregate information from that kind of filtering and use it to influence everyone’s results. I would probably attempt to filter sites that I’ve visted before mostly as a way to track pages I may have looked at already when learning more about a topic.

  17. Hi Tom,

    A little voice in the back of my head has been whispering that “bad things happen in threes.” I’ve been ignoring it.

    The annotations and filters sound interesting. I do find myself using Google’s present options to filter results to the last 24 hours and the last week a lot.

    If you look back at some of the very early PageRank papers, a PageRank indicator would be shown. See the images of search results from the first PageRank patent (pdf), near the end of the document, where they show the pageranks for pages listed. While Google never moved forward with that, I do think they like the idea of different annotations in search results.

    The meetup went great – thanks for asking. The ride was long, and I got up really early in the morning to drive to Raleigh so I’m still a little sleep deprived, but the audience was enthusiastic and asked great questions, and it went very well.

  18. I like the new improvements of the Google search engine. Have heard some rumors of an infinite result page as well, don’t know if it is true though. It was about time that they introduced the +1 button and put some weight in it. The new feature doesn’t seem too bad, even though it is not clear as a bell-ringing.

  19. Hi William,

    Google’s been introducing a good number of new features recently, but I’m not sure that they will add an infinite result page. That seems like it might be something that would get more people to go past the first page of search results, and would increase Google’s bandwidth significantly. It might also lead to less views of sponsored results by searchers.

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