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 which made it clear that passages that might be shown in response to a query are given answer scores that are based on both query dependent and query independent signals.
A query dependent signal is one that includes 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 of those answers.
At the end of September, Danny Sullivan, Public Liaison for Search at Google, posted on the Google Keyword Blog about some recent queries that were performed on Google that contained questions about smoke-related to wildfires in California. One frequent query in the area was, “why is the sky orange?” 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:
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 better understand 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 that are 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 actively is 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 simply, 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, but 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