Answer Boxes, Trigger Terms and Enriched Search Results

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A few years ago, I wrote the following about post about Google’s OneBox Patent Application I was brought back to it, with a new Google patent that looks at answering questions within similar answer boxes, and showing rich content, like in the example below:

trigger terms
This weather enriched result used the word ‘weather’ as a trigger term in the query.

A patent filed by Google a couple of years ago and granted today takes another look at Oneboxes, and includes this statement early on:

A search engine provider, Google Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., has developed an “answer box” technology, known as OneBox, that has been available for several years. Using this technology, a set of web search features are offered that provide a quick and easy way for a search engine to provide users with information that is relevant to, or that answers, their search query. For example, a search engine may respond to a search query regarding everyday essential information, reference tools, trip planning information, or other information by returning, as the first search result, information responsive to the search query, instead of providing a link and a snippet for each of many relevant web pages that may contain information.

A recent article about the Wolfram Alpha Search Engine, Do-It-Yourself AI: How Wolfram Alpha Is Bringing Artificial Intelligence to the Masses, tells us that Question Answering of that type is one of the things that sets it apart from search engines like Google, and it differs from those searches in how it approaches answering questions:

As Wolfram stated in his panel, if you ask Wolfram Alpha for the population of New York City, it will utilize both internal algorithmic work and real-world knowledge to compute it, rather than just searching for an accredited answer somewhere on the internet.

Just what are Trigger Terms?

To generate an answer box, Google might rely upon a certain word or phrase to initiate the showing of that answer box, something the patent refers to as trigger terms. These trigger terms may appear as text on pages that contain the content that they return.

Trigger terms may be category trigger terms associated with a type or category of answer box, such as

  • “movie,”
  • “weather,”
  • “convert,”
  • “how . . . is,”
  • “stock price,”

or trigger terms may be parameter trigger terms, such as

  • a particular person name (to obtain a social network status update),
  • a particular movie name (to obtain show times),
  • a particular location (to obtain weather or time or map information), or
  • a particular business name (to obtain stock information).

Enriched Web Resources

When Google identifies trigger terms in queries and response with an answer box result, it may provide a specialized display that is referred to in this patent as “enriched content.”

This enriched content could be an icon that triggers into action an audio or video application, a popup window that might include trigger terms as text, or show a clickable icon next to that trigger term or a “mouse-on” event on trigger terms.

These enriched results could also show an answer box gadget filled with snippets that are based upon “the parametric values of trigger terms.

This enriched results could be returned to show weather-related to a location, or time, or a map of a business at that location.

Google has been answering questions asked of it, and Google’s approach to showing answer boxes, in response to queries with trigger terms in them, and displaying enriched results, is a move towards the question answering described by Wolfram. The patent is:

Enriching web resources
Invented by: Xin Zhou
Assigned to: Google
US Patent 9,146,992
Granted September 29, 2015
Filed: January 13, 2012


Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on computer storage media, for enriching web resources In one aspect, a method includes: sending a request for a web resource to a web server, receiving the requested document from the web server, sending an identifier of the received web resource to a search engine server, retrieving from cached storage of the search engine server one or more trigger terms associated with the web resource, extracting the parametric values of each trigger term associated with the web resource, modifying the web resource by embedding an answer box gadget for each trigger term in the web resource using the parametric values of each trigger term, and rendering the modified web resource in the requesting client device.

Take Aways

The patent presents these answer box results as the kinds of things that a searcher may need, in many cases, to have a player for installed on their browsers as a browser plugin that could display the content to be shown in that answer box, such as an audio or video player or some other kind of content that a browser couldn’t display. Not sure why it does that; it likely wasn’t necessary in most cases when this patent was filed in 2012.

Trigger terms may also identify albums or reviews when the trigger term is a musical artist or a band, may identify reviews or showtimes when trigger terms are movies or show names, may return news articles about those trigger terms or travels conditions when a trigger is a travel-related (airport name or flight number).

We are told that when trigger terms appear within snippets in search results, they may cause search results to be presented as enriched result content within those search results.

Some of the answer box content that shows up in search results in this answer box answer may be placed in cached storage, like weather, time, stock category trigger terms, or parameter trigger terms (e.g., business, people, or place names).

When you see a direct answer result at Google, it is aiming at answering questions like a Wolfram Alpha. I’ll be discussing this topic in more depth next week in Las Vegas at Pubcon, in a presentation titled Evolution of Search

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21 thoughts on “Answer Boxes, Trigger Terms and Enriched Search Results”

  1. Hi Bill, thanks for another thought provoking post. I suspect that the use of this patent would only work well if the results of last weeks blog had been applied. Good luck with your talk.

  2. Hi Alan,

    I’ve see this in action at Google, and they’ve been using it over the past couple of years in many ways, including showing voting information, providing emergency weather warnings, showing TV episode and song information. There are a lot of different answer box features. I’m looking forward to the presentation. It should be fun.

  3. It would be interesting to know how they test the quality of SERPs on the trigger terms. Do you see that happening with manual reviewers?

  4. This is interesting. Will the browser plugin allow you to watch videos and play audio within search results? Will each video or audio result then have it’s own video box?

    I’ll come to your presentation at Pubcon too.

  5. This is really an interesting subject. I was unaware of Google patent. Also, I will eagerly wait for your presentation on Evolution of Search. All the best.

  6. Hi Mike,

    I suspect most people are unaware of these patents. But I like seeing them, because they usually tell you why they were created; what problem they were intended to try to solve, and what advantages they might bring to users of the search engine. Thanks, regarding the presentation; I’m looking forward to it.

  7. Hi Cathie,

    The patent mentions a browser plugin; but it’s been a while since you needed a plugin to watch videos at places like YouTube. I’m not cure I quite understand why the patent discussed plugins to display some answerbox results, but maybe they were just keeping some options open. Good to hear that you’re going to be able to catch the presentation at Pubcon.

  8. Hi Brent,

    It’s possible that some testing goes on with manual reviewers, but I suspect that with answerboxes, Google will often test those by seeing how searchers react to them, and whether they might click upon something related to them or not. Where there are answerboxes that do things like contain lists of symptoms, Google often ends those early, and provides a “see more” link for you to see the rest. Whether or not a lot of people click upon that to “see more” can tell Google how successful that answerbox might be.

  9. Excellent post and thorough description about the answer box and trigger terms. Your blog is my absolute favorite when it comes to reading and deciphering Google patent information.

    Keep up the GREAT work Bill!

  10. Informative article. Thanks Bill for sharing such a useful information with us. However, you mention here some great information regarding trigger terms and the way search engine fetch data on any search query.

  11. I have seen this answer box in many queries lately. The technology is quite impressive and almost always on the spot when presented. Google is clearly focusing on certain query keywords or combination of words to generate the box.

  12. Hi Allen,

    I find myself surprised at some answers I see, usually because they are more than I suspected they might be Those are the answers that go beyond a simple fact. The medical answers have been impressive.

  13. Hi Bill,
    I’ve always wondered how we can set on tracking the latest patent applications filled and those granted, can you recommend a tool or method to keep track and following all the latest patents, or at least some tip of how to organise the monitoring?

  14. Great info as always, interesting I thought they started to release the patients more quickly now, but from this post I can’t argue with you as one boxs have been around for ages now.

  15. Hi Susan,

    One boxes have been around for a while; what I thought was interesting was that Google was sharing some insights into how answerboxes might be triggered. Some of the things that they mention in this patent are a bit dated, like the idea of needing a browser plugin to watch a video, which was more likely happening when the onebox was first introduced back sometime around 2005-2007. The fact that the presence of trigger terms in snippets are what causes rich content to appear (like the weather features in the image in this post) was something new from this patent, and it’s good to get some idea of the mechanics of how search results are generated.

  16. Hi Bill Slawski! Great Post! There is so much you have mentioned where so much can be learned. Every inch of the information you have shared here is very useful and can help a lot if it is practically implemented. I ll surely adopt your strategies. Great work. Cheers

  17. This was really interesting. Through this blog I can learn more about trigger terms and answer box. Thanks for sharing this.

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