Google Related Questions now use a Question Graph

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I recently bought a lemon tree and wanted to learn how to care for it. So, I started asking about it at Google, which provided me with other questions and answers related to caring for a lemon tree. As I clicked upon some of those, others were revealed that gave me more information that was helpful.

Last March, I wrote a post about Google Related Questions, Google’s Related Questions Patent or “People Also Ask” Questions.

Google Patent Updated to Include a Question Graph

related questions - questions database

As Barry Schwartz noted recently at Search Engine Land, Google is now also showing alternative query refinements as ‘People Also Search For’ listings, in the post, Google launches a new look for “people also search for” search refinements. That was enough to have me look to see if the original Google Related Questions patent was updated. It was. A continuation patent was granted in June of last year, with the same name but updated claims.

The older version of the patent can be found at Generating related questions for search queries.

It doesn’t say anything about the changing of the wording of Google Related Questions. Some “people also search for” results don’t necessarily take the form of questions, either (so “people also ask” may be very appropriate and continue to be something we see in the future.) But the claims from the new patent contain some new phrases and language that wasn’t in the old patent. The new Google patent is at:

Generating related questions for search queries
Inventors: Yossi Matias, Dvir Keysar, Gal Chechik, Ziv Bar-Yossef, and Tomer Shmiel
Assignee: Google Inc.
US Patent: 9,679,027
Granted: June 13, 2017
Filed: December 14, 2015


Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on computer storage media, are described for identifying related questions for a search query. One of the methods includes receiving a search query from a user device; obtaining a plurality of search results for the search query provided by a search engine, wherein each of the search results identifies a respective search result resource; determining one or more respective topic sets for each search result resource, wherein the topic sets for the search result resource are selected from previously submitted search queries that have resulted in users selecting search results identifying the search result resource; selecting related questions from a question database using the topic sets, and transmitting data identifying the related questions to the user device as part of a response to the search query.

The first claim brings a new concept into the world of related questions and answers, which I will highlight in it:

1. A method performed by one or more computers, the method comprising: generating a question graph that includes a respective node for each of a plurality of questions; connecting, with links in the question graph, nodes for questions that are equivalent, comprising: identifying selected resources for each of the plurality of questions based on user selections of search results in response to previous submissions of the question as a search query to a search engine; identifying pairs of questions from the plurality of questions, wherein the questions in each identified pair of questions have at least a first threshold number of common identified selected resources; and for each identified pair, connecting the nodes for the questions in the identified pair with a link in the question graph; receiving a new search query from a user device; obtaining an initial ranking of questions that are related to the new search query; generating a modified ranking of questions that are related to the new search query, comprising, for each question in the initial ranking: determining whether the question is equivalent to any higher-ranked questions in the initial ranking by determining whether a node for the question is connected by a link to any of the nodes for any of the higher-ranked questions in the question graph; and when the question is equivalent to any of the higher-ranked questions, removing the question from the modified ranking; selecting one or more questions from the modified ranking; and transmitting data identifying the selected questions to the user device as part of a response to the new search query.

Just What is a Question Graph?

A question graph would be a semantic approach towards asking and answering questions related to each other in meaningful ways. A Drawing from the patent shows related questions are chosen from appropriate topic sets:

related questions and topic sets

In addition to the “question graph” mentioned in that first claim, we are also told that Google is keeping an eye upon how often it appears that people are selecting these related questions and watching how often people are clicking upon and reading those.

The descriptions and the images in the patent are from the original version of the patent, so there aren’t any that reflect upon what a question graph might look like. For a while, Facebook introduced graph search as a feature that you could use to search on Facebook and that used questions related to each other. I found a screen that shows some of those off, and such related questions could be considered from a question graph of related questions. It isn’t quite the same thing as what Google is doing with related questions, but the idea of showing questions that may be related to an initial one in a query and keeping an eye upon those to see if people are spending time looking at them makes sense. I’ve been seeing a lot of related questions in search results and have been using them. Here are the Facebook graph search questions:

Facebook Graph Search Related questions

As you can see, those questions share some facts and are considered to be related to each other because they are. This makes them similar to questions found from a question graph that might mean they could be of interest to a searcher who asks the first query. Interestingly, the claims from the new patent ask about whether or not the questions being shown are being clicked upon, and that tells Google if there is any interest on the part of searchers to continue to see related questions. I’ve been finding them easy to click upon and interesting.

Are you working on questions and answers to your content?

Last Updated September 1, 2019

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25 thoughts on “Google Related Questions now use a Question Graph”

  1. Should Bloggers consider this update to be positive or Negative? Now, Google will answer a lot more questions than websites does. So can we expect a decrease in traffic because of this action from Google?

  2. Hey Bill, I do make it a habit of creating FAQs content for clients as it’s a pretty easy way to get targetted traffic. But aside from searching through Google’s question graph (or People also ask boxes) is there another way or website you’d recommend to search most popular FAQs?

    I am aware of but that site has so much data filters missing in my opinion. I’m eager to learn of a better way to search most popular or most recent FAQs in different industries. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

  3. Hi JL,

    The first SEO role I had was as an inhouse SEO. I had the person who answered the phones and talked to potential clients (the owner of the company) write down questions he was asked, and write out answers to those. Since he was the subject matter expert on the buinsess, and was getting the questions directly from customers, it was a really good source. Often people in roles such as customer service or sales are good people to ask such questions because they often here the ones people tend to be interested in. Most clients do like to be involved on a level like this, and in deciding what questions and answers should ideally be on the website (they may not want to share some questions and answers to them, so that they aren’t giving that information away to their competitors.

    There are sites other than answer the public that are good sources of questions and answers, such as quora and wikipedia. and you will see some featured snippets in search results.

    Asking your subject matter experts, if they are available is often one of the best sources because it is something that they have experienced.

  4. Hi Nirmal,

    The answers I am seeing link to the pages that are the sources of the facts answering questions. If you have an answer that is a bulleted list, chances are that the answer shown in search results will only include the first 3 or 4 bulleted items, and provide a link for people to see more. It is worth experimenting with, and seeing if you can include questions and answers that cause people to visit your site.

  5. hi, bill i have also noticed this feature of google. But sometimes it also changes the subject matter. but anyways …still google is the best.

  6. Hi Shrutakirti,

    Sometimes it does get things wrong. For instance, I bought a tree known as a strawberry tree for my back patio (it doesn’t grow strawberries, but instead berries that some people say look like strawberries.) It included related questions about growing strawberries, instead of strawberry trees, showing that Google hasn’t quite gotten this right yet. I’m hoping they improve.

  7. Facebook graph search is very good. Google is working on search algorithms from so many years and also know about FB graph search then it is difficult to understand why Google is not going into Graph search. This Search will make Google more effective for searching.

  8. Hi Bill,

    Very informative article. Google is trying as best as possible to get answers from a machine. As things stood, there was a lot of scope for improvement in the kind of answers google spelt out. With this new change we shall expect some improvement.

    Related questions would bring up a lot of related or seemingly related material. We will have to sift through the output. What SEO changes we need to make is still to be worked out.

    Thanks for posting this great article.

    Best Regards


  9. Currently, a lot of related questions are not precise. For example, searching for general keyword which should shows another general keywords tied semantically, the algorithm generates local phrases which are not even close to the main goal. What’s more – those phrases presents result combined with different regions/cities, not connected with a current location detected by IP. Yeah, maybe for 1% percent of users this feature is okay, but for the rest of us it is useless.

  10. You are so interesting! I do not believe I’ve truly read anything like this before. So good to discover somebody with a few unique thoughts on this subject matter. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This site is one thing that is required on the internet, someone with a little originality!

  11. Nice post Bill! It is not easy write a informational post like this. This is very informational and precious post. I like this post and read it more than one time. Thanks for sharing, keep it up.

  12. I noticed people using the answer portion to thank people who replied to their query, rather than simply using the thumbs up widget.

    Does Google actually intend questions to be answered by brands, or by the public?
    From what I’ve seen, owners are largely unaware of or choosing to ignore this feature many months post-launch.

    Thanks for this great article!

  13. Thanks for sharing this useful and important post,
    Like always, great content, Keep it up ! you are helping us a lot. This site is one thing that is required on the internet, someone with a little originality

  14. Excellent Post.I want to ask you a question ? IF i create blog that only answer question ? most of answer won;t long enough like 300 word.if i create a blog can google index it?

  15. Hi Arnob,

    Being able to answer questions in as complete a manner as possible is a good skill to develop as an SEO. Understand the words that your audience will expect to see used on your page, and may use to search with to find the content you create. Google can index 300 words of content, but you may want to write longer posts then that. If you choose a specific keyword that you would like your blog post to rank for, search on Google for that keyword, and look through the top ten results for the particular meaning of that keyword that you want to rank for, and look through those results, and see if there are particular phrases that tend to show up frequently in those results. There are a few Google patents on phrase-based indexing that refer to those phrases that appear frequently like that as co-occurring phrases. If they are meaningful phrases (rather than just idioms) that could be said to predict that your page is about the keyword term or phrase that you have selected for your page, they may be worth including on your page in your answer if they make sense to include. Using co-occurring phrases like that can help you create longer answers that are semnatically themed for your chosen keywords for your answer. And it may help your answers rank well for your keywords.

  16. The “people also search for” at times helps you in getting additional information and gives a new solution to questions.
    Your take on every blog topic is amazing. You do a thorough research and that helps your readers to be engaged.

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