How Can Google Look for Authoritative Search Results?

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

Conduct keyword research to find appropriate terms and phrases to your business and viewers
Review the use of key words on the pages of your site to make sure it includes those in prominent places on those pages
Map out pages on a site to place keywords in meaningful places
The significant places on your pages depend on information retrieval scores for HTML elements such as Titles and Headings and Lists
The placement of keywords in prominent and important places on your pages can make your pages more relevant for those keywords
Research the subjects your pages are about, and make sure they answer questions that your audience may have about those topics in trustworthy and meaningful ways
Concentrate on Authoritative Search Results

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

Generally speaking, an authoritative website is a website that the search system has decided to include particularly trusted, accurate, or reliable content. The search system can distinguish authoritative websites from low-quality websites which have resources with shallow content or that often include spam advertisements. Whether the lookup system considers a site to be authoritative will typically be query-dependent. For example, the search system can consider the website for the Centers for Disease Control, “cdc.gov,” to be an authoritative site for the question “cdc mosquito stop snacks,” but may not look at the identical site to be authoritative for the query “restaurant recommendations”. A search result that identifies a resource on a website that’s authoritative for the query may be referred to as an authoritative lookup result. The search system can determine whether to get an authoritative search result in response to a question in many different ways, which will be described below.

This definition seems to tell us that authoritative websites are high quality websites. The timing of a few other actions at Google seem to fit in well with the granting of the 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’ve taken to enhance the quality of results at Google, titled Our latest quality enhancements for Search. In that post, Ben points out that Google has published a brand new set of Search Quality Rater Guidelines — May 11, 2017, openly, so that they are shared with the entire world rather than just to Google’s Search quality raters.

Among the named inventors on this patent was an inventor on a different patent which I wrote about which focused upon high quality websites also. That patent is well worth reading about together with this one. That post is one I wrote called Google’s High Quality Sites Patent. As I said of the 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 rank pages are low quality pages, the search engine may use an alternate query to find another set of search results that include pages from high quality websites. Those search results from the first query may then be merged with the results from the alternate query, with the pages from the low quality websites removed so that the search results include a larger percentage of pages from high quality websites.

So the goal of the new patent is to find results from higher quality search results. Google does seem to be targeting higher quality pages nowadays with the results they reveal.

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 files, multimedia content, e.g., videos, which are related to a user’s information needs and to present information about the resources in a manner that’s most useful to the consumer.

In the summary section for this patent, the objective of the patent is identified to us as locating 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 website 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 expects resources from an authoritative website.

What this Patent Does

A search engine does not choose the query terms that someone may use to perform a search together; but it may have the ability to identify query refinements based upon the initial query term. If the original query does not return an authoritative outcome; Google might insert to the results shown for it some authoritative results for one of those query refinements based upon this initial query. It may demonstrate that authoritative result on peak of the search results that it returns. This means that Google will be more likely to return high quality websites at the top of search results, rather than results from websites that might not be viewed as authoritative sites.

The patent which 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 devices, including computer programs encoded on computer storage media, for obtaining authoritative search results. Among the methods includes receiving a first search query. Initial search results responsive to the initial search query are obtained. Based on the first search query or the initial search results, an authoritative search result that identifies a resource on a website that’s authoritative for the initial search query is obtained. A ranking of the authoritative search result and the one or more first search results is generated, and the rank of the authoritative search result and the one or more first search results is provided in response to the initial search query.

There were some really interesting points raised in the patent, making the whole thing worth spending time studying carefully:

1. Google might maintain a “keyword-to-authoritative website database” that it can refer to when someone performs a question.
2. The patent described “Mapping” key words on pages online as sources of information for that authoritative website database.
3. Google may also maintain “topic keyword and category keyword mappings to authoritative websites”.
4. Google may compute confidence scores, which represent a likelihood that a key word, if received in a question, refers to a particular authoritative website.
5. The patent talks about Mapping revised queries, such as this: “The system can also analyze user query refinements to create extra 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 create revised search queries.” I have written about substitute terms before in How Google May Rewrite Your Search Terms.
7. If the original question, and the replacement question used to surface an authoritative outcome 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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