Bursty Fresh and Local Featured Snippet Answers at Google

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Featured Snippet Answers Based on Context

Last month I wrote about answer passages when Google decides what answers to show in response to queries that are asking questions, in the post, Featured Snippet Answer Scores Ranking Signals. In that post, I wrote about an updated patent that made it clear that passages that might be shown in response to a query are given answer scores based on both query dependent and query independent signals.

A query-dependent signal includes the relevance of a term in the query to some aspect of candidate featured snippet answers. A query independent signal doesn’t rely upon the terms in a query and their relevance to terms in an answer passage but could look at other aspects of answers, such as whether an answer is written in complete sentences or other query independent aspects answers.

At the end of September, Danny Sullivan, Public Liaison for Search at Google, posted on the Google Keyword Blog about some recent queries on Google that contained questions about smoke related to wildfires in California. One frequent query in the area was, “why is the sky orange?” In addition, the blog post told us about how Google might use contextual information about location and freshness of content in featured snippet answers.

You may notice that the location of searchers is not expressly identified in the query, much like a search for different business types, such as restaurants or places to shop. The article about these queries is in the post at:

Why is the sky orange? How Google gave people the right info

Danny tells us about how Google might respond to these queries:

Well, language understanding is at the core of Search, but it’s not just about the words. Critical context, like time and place, also helps us understand what you’re really looking for. This is particularly true for featured snippets, a feature in Search that highlights pages that our systems determine are likely a great match for your search. We’ve made improvements to understand better when fresh or local information — or both — is key to delivering relevant results to your search.

So this is pointing out that Google has worked on improving answers for questions asking about fresh or local information (Or both). The snippet from the post refers to critical context, and how Google may understand the context of a question is essential to how helpful it can be in answering questions.

Google tells us that “Our freshness indicators identified a rush of new content was being produced on this topic that was both locally relevant and different from the more evergreen content that existed.”

Since Google is actively engaged in indexing content on the web, they can notice bursty behavior about different topics and where it is from. That reminds me of a post I wrote back in 2008 called How Search Query Burstiness Could Increase Page Rankings. So Google can tell what people are searching for and where they are searching from by keeping an eye on their log files, and Google can tell what people are creating content about when it indexes new and updated webpages.

I liked this statement from the Google post, too:

Put, instead of surfacing general information on what causes a sunset, when people searched for “why is the sky orange” during this time period, our systems automatically pulled in current, location-based information to help people find the timely results they were searching for.

Danny also points out a query that sometimes surfaces from searchers in places such as New York City or Boston: “Why is it Hazy?” to show that Google can use local context in those areas to provide relevant results for people searching from there.

We are told that this Google blog post provided information about a couple of queries specific to certain locations. Still, Google receives billions of queries a day, and they provide fresh and relevant results to all of those queries when they receive them.

Understanding the context of questions that people perform on different topics and from different places can help people receive answers to what they want to learn more about. The Google Blog post from Danny is worth reading and thinking about if you haven’t seen it.

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10 thoughts on “Bursty Fresh and Local Featured Snippet Answers at Google”

  1. Hi Joe,

    Glad you liked this post. I felt like it was worth adding more context to what Danny Sullivan wrote, because I’m working on another post about how Google may look at and score featured snippet answers – and just a link to the Google Blog post wasn’t enough. I wanted to make sure it was tied to something about burstiness.

  2. Hi Bill, so what you’re saying is that the snippet should answer a question that is popular? I usually just make my snippet the intro paragraph that begins to explain what the body is going to be about.

  3. Really great post. I am really impressed with the information.I look forward to more comprehensive and insightful posts like this in the future. Thanks for your post. keep it up!

  4. Hi Chad,

    I am not saying that your snippet should answer a question that is popular. I am saying that your page should answer a question that is popular, and you can show that question on your page as well. Google may decide that your page should be the source of an answer to a question that people are asking in your location or in a topic that you frequently write about. This would be an answer passage that Google chooses content from your page to use as a featured snippet.

    A featured snippet is different from a snippet that is made from the meta description of your page. Ideally, the meta description that you write for a page should be an intro to the content that your page is about, and it should include the keyword terms that your page is optimized for, and you hope people will use to search for your page.

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