How Does Google Look for Authoritative Search Results?


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A NASA Android that Voyaged to Space
A NASA Android that Voyaged to Space

If you’ve done any SEO for a site, you may recognize some of the steps involved in working towards making a website authoritative:

  1. Conduct keyword research to find appropriate terms and phrases for your industry and audience
  2. Review the use of keywords on the pages of your site to make sure it includes those in prominent places on those pages
  3. Map out pages on a site to place keywords in meaningful places
  4. The meaningful places on your pages are determined by information retrieval scores for HTML elements such as Titles and Headings and Lists
  5. The placement of keywords in prominent and important places on your pages can make your pages more relevant for those keywords
  6. Research the topics your pages are about, and make sure they answer questions that your audience may have about those topics in trustworthy and meaningful ways

Focus on Authoritative Search Results

A patent granted to Google this week focuses upon authoritative search results. It describes how Google might surface authoritative results for queries and for query revisions when there might not results that meet a threshold of authoritativeness for the initial query. Reading through it was like looking at a mirror image of the efforts I usually go through to try to build authoritative results for a search engine to surface. In addition to using some of the same language that I use to describe how I build authoritative pages, the patent also defines what an authoritative site is for us in terms that I might find myself using too:

In general, an authoritative site is a site that the search system has determined to include particularly trusted, accurate, or reliable content. The search system can distinguish authoritative sites from low-quality sites that include resources with shallow content or that frequently include spam advertisements. Whether the search system considers a site to be authoritative will typically be query-dependent. For example, the search system can consider the site for the Centers for Disease Control, “cdc.gov,” to be an authoritative site for the query “cdc mosquito stop bites,” but may not consider the same site to be authoritative for the query “restaurant recommendations”. A search result that identifies a resource on a site that is authoritative for the query may be referred to as an authoritative search result. The search system can determine whether to obtain an authoritative search result in response to a query in a variety of ways, which will be described below.

This definition seems to tell us that authoritative sites are high quality sites. The timing of a couple of other actions at Google seem to fit in well with the granting of this patent. Once is the publication of a Blog post by long time Google search engineer Ben Gomes (who joined Google in 1999), on steps they have taken to improve the quality of results at Google, titled Our latest quality improvements for Search. In that post, Ben points out that Google has published a brand new set of Search Quality Rater Guidelines – May 11, 2017, publicly, so that they are shared with the world instead of just to Google’s Search quality raters.

One of the named inventors on this patent was an inventor on another patent that I wrote about which focused upon high quality sites as well. That patent is worth reading about together with this one. That post is one I wrote named Google’s High Quality Sites Patent. As I said of that patent, it describes its purpose in this way:

This patent identifies pages that rank well for certain queries, and looks at the quality of those pages. If a threshold amount of those ranking pages are low quality pages, the search engine might use an alternative query to find a second set of search results that include pages from high quality sites. Those search results from the first query might then be merged with the results from the alternative query, with the pages from the low quality sites removed so that the search results include a greater percentage of pages from high quality sites.

So the aim of this new patent is to find results from higher quality search results. Google does seem to be targeting higher quality pages these days with the results they show.

Google sets a fairly high bar with search results, telling us in the description to this new patent:

Internet search engines aim to identify resources, e.g., web pages, images, text documents, multimedia content, e.g., videos, that are relevant to a user’s information needs and to present information about the resources in a manner that is most useful to the user.

In the summary section for this patent, the objective of the patent is identified to us as finding authoritative answers:

This specification describes how a system can improve search result sets by including at least one authoritative search result that identifies a resource on an authoritative site for a query. The system can include an authoritative search result, for example, when scores of an initial first search result set are low or when the query itself indicates that the user seeks resources from an authoritative site.

What this Patent Does

A search engine doesn’t choose the query terms that someone might use to perform a search with; but it might be able to identify query refinements based upon the initial query term. If the original query doesn’t return an authoritative result; Google might insert into the results shown for it some authoritative results for one of those query refinements based upon that original query. It might show that authoritative result at the top of the search results that it returns. This means that Google will be more likely to return high quality sites at the top of search results, rather than results from sites that might not be seen as authoritative sites.

The patent that was granted this week is:

Obtaining authoritative search results
Inventors: Trystan Upstill, Yungchun Wan, and Alexandre Kojoukhov
Assignee: Google Inc.
US Patent: 9,659,064
Granted: May 23, 2017
Filed: March 15, 2013

Abstract

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on computer storage media, for obtaining authoritative search results. One of the methods includes receiving a first search query. First search results responsive to the first search query are obtained. Based on the first search query or the first search results, an authoritative search result that identifies a resource on a site that is authoritative for the first search query is obtained. A ranking of the authoritative search result and the one or more first search results is generated, and the ranking of the authoritative search result and the one or more first search results is provided in response to the first search query.

There were some really interesting points raised in the patent, which makes the whole thing worth spending time reading carefully:

1. Google might maintain a “keyword-to-authoritative site database” which it can refer to when someone performs a query.
2. The patent described “Mapping” keywords on pages on the Web as sources of information for that authoritative site database.
3. Google may also maintain “topic keyword and category keyword mappings to authoritative sites”.
4. Google may calculate confidence scores, which represent a likelihood that a keyword, if received in a query, refers to a specific authoritative site.
5. The patent talks about Mapping revised queries, like this: “The system can also analyze user query refinements to generate additional topic or category keyword mappings or refine existing ones.”
6. Interestingly, the patent talks about revisions in queries as being substitute terms that might be used “aggressively to generate revised search queries.” I’ve written about substitute terms before in How Google May Rewrite Your Search Terms.
7. If the original query, and the replacement query used to surface an authoritative result are similar enough (based upon a similarity score that would be used to compare them), that authoritative result may be demoted in the results shown to a searcher.

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