A Panda Patent Returns with New Claims
Three years ago, I wrote about a patent from Google’s Navneet Panda which focused on how pages are ranked in search results. My post was a summary. and was called, Google’s Panda Granted a Patent on Ranking Search Results. Last week, a continuation version of the patent I wrote about in that post was awarded to Google. I like continuation patents since the claims section of such patents change as the process described in them has changed in some way. Those changes are often an interesting reflection of Google making changes to the process described in the original patent. This one points to repeat clicks as being important.
We have seen changes at Google in recent years involving things such as Rank Brain and Machine Learning, but the updates in this patent appear to be related to user interaction with websites. As I mentioned, one of the inventors involved in this patent is Navneet Panda, who is best known for being involved in the Panda update at Google. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the patent tells us that it involves demoting search results for pages that are of low quality.
I looked at the claims from this new version of the patent and was surprised by the changes in how it worked.
The patent focuses upon search results returned in response to a query. It mentions a group-based modification factor that might influence which search results appear for a query:
In general, one innovative aspect of the subject matter described in this specification can be embodied in methods that include the actions of receiving a search query from a client device; receiving data identifying a plurality of search result resources and respective initial scores for each of the search result resources; identifying a respective group of resources to which each of the search result resources belongs; determining a respective group-based modification factor for each group of resources, and adjusting the initial score for each of the search result resources based at least in part on the group-specific modification factor for the group of resources to which the search result resource belongs to generate a respective second score for each of the search result resources.
The Process behind the Patent
The process described in the patent starts with determining if the result selected in response to a query is navigational or not. If it is, then the process described in the patent doesn’t seem to add much information about the site selected in search results.
The patent tells us about unique clicks and deliberate visits (from a user who has not before clicked upon search results from any resource in a particular group) and how it might look at a count of repeat clicks on the particular group of resources selected to generate a repeat click fraction for resources chosen.
If someone, throughout more than one search session, performs a search and selects the same resource (possibly using different words), that would be counted as a repeat click, and the more repeat clicks, the higher a signal of quality for that resource – if someone is returning to a page purposefully (a deliberate visit), that is a positive sign and combined with other signals, such as how long the duration of their stay there might be before they return to search.
The Importance of Duration of a Visit
While the duration of a visit to a search result is something that I’ve seen hinted at as something that a search engine might use as a positive signal, this is the first time I’ve seen it spelled out clearly in a patent, which tells us:
The average duration metric for the particular group of resources can be a statistical measure computed from a data set of measurements of a length of time that elapses between the time that a given user clicks on a search result included in a search results web page that identifies a resource in the particular group of resources and time that the given user navigates back to the search results web page.
As I wrote about in Unraveling Panda Patterns at Moz, indications of high quality in search results are a positive signal, and indications of low-quality resources can result in those resources being demoted in search results. The patent tells us the benefit of this is that:
Thus, the user experience can be improved because search results higher in the presentation order will better match the user’s informational needs.
The updated continuation patent is:
Ranking search results
Inventors: Navneet Panda, Vladimir Ofitserov, and Kaihua Zhu
US Patent: 9,684,697
Granted: June 20, 2017
Filed: December 31, 2012
Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on computer storage media, for receiving a search query from a client device; receiving search result data identifying the first plurality of search result resources and respective initial scores for each of the first plurality of search result resources; identifying a respective group of resources to which each of the search result resources belongs; determining a respective group-based modification factor for each group of resources, and adjusting the initial score for each of the search result resources based at least in part on the group-specific modification factor for the group of resources to which the search result resource belongs to generate a respective second score for each of the search result resources.
The earlier version of the patent Ranking Search Results granted in 2014 differs from this newer version, especially in the claims section, which discusses clicks in much more detail.
We’ve been told by many Google representatives that click selection data tends to be noisy and isn’t used in ranking search results, but instead may be used to test algorithms used by Google. Is that true with this patent as well? It appears to be an important part of how the process described in the patent functions, and worth spending some time thinking about. The patent points to clicks from logged-in searchers and is accompanied by cookies or Device IDs. How reliable is it?
But more importantly: (1) Give people a reason to come to your website for the things you care to rank for, and
(2) Give people a reason to spend time on your page, once they come to visit you. 🙂