At Google Local Expert Reviews May Boost Local Search Results

Posted @ Oct 20 2017 by

Local Expert Reviews

Reviews offering a ranking Boost?

In the Past, Google Has Hinted Reviews Might Be Used to Rank Results.

In 2013, I wrote a post about how Google might consider using requests for driving directions as something that might boost local search results at Google in the post, Driving Directions vs. Reviews as Ranking Signals for Google Maps. That post was based on a white paper describing a strong correlation between requests for driving directions and positive reviews for a business. The paper I had written about was, Hyper-Local, Directions-Based Ranking of Places (pdf). The post also looked at a Google patent named Directions-based ranking of places returned by local search queries.

In that patent, we were told that for business types where there just weren’t many requests for driving directions, Google might use other signs of popularity for those businesses, such as reviews. It was interesting to see that mentioned, however, it didn’t tell us more about how reviews might be used to boost local search results. (Reviews are something I have seen many people engaging in local search suggest as something Google uses in ranking local businesses, but without too much detail.) I was hoping to see something from Google that told us more.

This week, I finally saw a Google patent telling us more. The patent delves into how reviews might be used to boost local search rankings. If those reviews are from people Google recognizes as experts on a business type in a certain geographic area, they may be used to boost local results

Why focus upon local experts?

Like most patents, this one identifies a problem, and then a solution they have selected to solve that problem.

Here is the problem that looking at local expert reviews is intended to resolve:

Local search engines are generally used to obtain information about businesses and other points of interest related to some geographic area. For example, a user may submit a query for “Italian restaurants in New York,” and in response, a local search engine typically attempts to identify responsive content, such as websites of Italian restaurants in New York and reviews of such restaurants. Generally, however, local search queries implicate substantially more web resources than a user is interested in viewing (e.g., there may be several hundred websites of, or about, New York Italian restaurants), and identifying the subset of responsive web resources likely to warrant the user’s attention can be difficult.

The solution seems to be identifying experts on a business type in a locality and the places they recommend:

Often, some users are particularly knowledgeable about certain topics relating to local search queries, for instance some users are experts in a particular genre of restaurants, a particular city or neighborhood, a type of retailer, or a combination of these categories (e.g., the New York Italian restaurants responsive to the above-mentioned query). Such experts, however, can be difficult to identify, particularly at web scale, as many users with relatively little expertise will hold forth on various topics; some users will self identify as experts in order to propagate spam for commercial benefit; and the number of local-search topics on which one may be an expert is very large.

Some aspects include a process, including: obtaining reviews of a reviewed category of businesses in a reviewed geographic area by reviewers; determining that reviews from more than a threshold number of reviewers have been obtained and, in response, identifying at least some of the reviewers as being experts in the reviewed category of businesses in the reviewed geographic area; receiving a query from a user; identifying a geographic area and a category of businesses for the query; ranking, with a processor, local search results responsive to the query based on the reviews of the experts in the reviewed geographic area and reviewed business category; and sending ranked search results to the user.

The new patent from Google is this one:

Identifying local experts for local search
Inventors: John Alastair Hawkins and Cristina Stancu-Mara
Assignee: GOOGLE
US Patent: 9,792,330
Granted: October 17, 2017
Filed: April 30, 2013

Abstract

Provided is a process, including: obtaining reviews of a reviewed category of businesses in a reviewed geographic area by reviewers; determining that reviews from more than a threshold number of reviewers have been obtained and, in response, identifying at least some of the reviewers as being experts in the reviewed category of businesses in the reviewed geographic area; receiving a query from a user; identifying a geographic area and a category of businesses for the query; ranking, with a processor, local search results responsive to the query based on the reviews of the experts in the reviewed geographic area and reviewed business category; and sending ranked search results to the user.

The patent provides many details on who a local expert might be. It also provides details on how to find them.

Reviews from experts would be reviewed to make sure that they are long enough to be adequate reviews. Google would use something like ngrams (as seen in a recent patent from Navneet Panda to identify site quality: Using Ngram Phrase Models to Generate Site Quality Scores) to tell whether reviews are spam or not, so reviews that are poorly written and grammatically incorrect may be seen as spam.

Someone who writes 34 reviews about “Italian Restaurants in New York City” might be seen as a local expert in New York City. Someone writing 10 reviews on chocolate stores throughout the United States might be seen as a local expert (in the United States) on stores that sell chocolate.

The patent says that many reviews aren’t trustworthy; which is also a problem it tries to solve:

Local search benefits from using web-hosted consumer reviews to rank businesses (e.g., business websites, websites about businesses, or other local business-related content), but many reviews are not trustworthy, either because the reviewer lacks expertise, or the reviewer has different preferences from the user submitting a local search query. This problem and others are mitigated by some embodiments of a web services system (shown in FIG. 1) that pre-processes reviews to identify experts and, then, uses the experts’ reviews to rank local search results.

The local expert reviews used by this patent appear to be reviews submitted to multiple sites. This way, they aren’t just reviews from Google+. Google would look at reviews, and filter them to remove spam. After spam is removed, the reviews are then categorized using hierarchical categories based upon geographical location and categories of business.

To provide local expert reviews that may be considered more valuable to a searcher, a level of personalization is involved in this process:

Further, some embodiments personalize the selection of experts by identifying those experts whose reviews are similar to those of the user from whom the local search query was received. And, some embodiments calculate an expertise score for each expert, a value which is used to rank reviews about a given business for presentation to a user after a user selects a corresponding local search result.

This patent’s description provides this summary of the process behind the patent in the described here:

For example, several thousand users may submit to a social networking service or a business directory reviews of various businesses in New York State. Embodiments obtain these reviews from the social networking service, business directory, or both, and filter out those reviews that are likely spam and those reviews that are less than a few words in length to identify a set of substantive user reviews. The remaining reviews are grouped by geographic area and category of the business, forming for instance, a subset of reviews relating to Italian restaurants in New York City. A few users typically submit substantially more reviews in the subset than other users, for instance one user may have submitted 35 different reviews about 35 different Italian restaurants in New York City, while most users may have submitted a single review. Those users with reviews in the area-category subset are ranked according to the number of reviews they have submitted in the subset, and a number (e.g., the top 10) are designated as experts on, for instance, Italian restaurants in New York City. Later, when a user submits a local search query requesting, for example, Italian restaurants near New York City, the same area-category is detected in the query; the corresponding top experts are retrieved from memory; and reviews by those experts are used to rank local search results identifying New York City Italian restaurants, thereby potentially presenting to the user some of the best Italian restaurants in New York City according to local experts.

There is complexity involved in identifying local experts. The patent goes into the variations potentially involved, such as looking at starred ratings or votes some reviews are “helpful.” It’s worth reading the patent in detail to know more.

It is interesting seeing the kinds of things that Google might look at to rank local search results. Looking at reviews from people identified as experts and boosting rankings from those people is interesting.

19 Comments

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  2. Bill

    October 20th, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    Bill thanks as always for providing these helpful references of Google patents. They certainly can give clues about what Google may or may not be doing with their algorithms.

    Reply

    • Bill Slawski

      October 20th, 2017 at 5:34 pm

      Hi Bill,

      I was excited to read this patent, and to share it, because I have seen a number of people guessing that reviews were something google might be using to boost search results. It’s fun to be able to peek behind the curtain.

  3. Paul Wallace

    October 20th, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    Recently Google just removed reviews from us on our 2nd page. Any feedback on the “best” way to get reviews from customers? We find that commercial clients tend not to like to login into their personal google accounts to write reviews. Thoughts?

    Reply

    • Bill Slawski

      October 23rd, 2017 at 11:35 am

      Hi Paul,

      Do they have a brand Log-in at Google that they could leave a review from instead of their personal accounts? Maybe they would consider leaving a review from that accound instead? Those aren’t necessarily the reviews that this patent is about

      This patent covers reviews that could be from many different review sites (social networks such as Facebook, business directory listings, sources such as trip advisor.) Google looks at reviews about a business, and sees what else the person who wrote it has written, and tries to decide if they might be considered a local expert. Having reviews from people considered local experts may cause your local search listing to be boosted in search resuylts.

  4. Rick Vidallon

    October 21st, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    I am curious if there has been any Google search related patents regarding the the ‘freshness’ of content? Would be interested in reading that!

    Reply

    • Bill Slawski

      October 21st, 2017 at 11:38 pm

      Hi Rick,

      That is not really relevant to this patent at all, but I have written about a few patents from Google that is about how fresh or mature results are in organic search results. News results tend to use freshness as a ranking signal, but Google has one on what they refer to as a “document inception date,” where they tell us that the age of a page isn’t the date that might be attached to it in a snippet, but is the date that Google first crawled a page. I wrote a post where I discuss that patent, and another one that looks at how Google might address updated content on web pages:

      How Google Might Track Changes on Webpages

  5. Consulenza

    October 23rd, 2017 at 8:58 am

    Great great great article. It provides pure gold info when it comes to reviews. I would have a question: “The local expert reviews used by this patent appear to be reviews submitted to multiple sites (so they aren’t just reviews from Google+.)”.

    By “multiple sites” should we understand general sites like Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare or also niche websites like Tripadvisor?

    Thanks

    Reply

    • Bill Slawski

      October 23rd, 2017 at 9:38 am

      Hi Consulenza.

      Thank you. All of those sites you mentioned have reviews. The patent doesn’t mention which sites by domain, but it sounds like all of those sites that carry reviews would be included. It says that reviews could be submitted to various websites, and tells us this as an example:

      For example, several thousand users may submit to a social networking service or a business directory reviews of various businesses in New York State.

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  9. Nathan Driver

    October 23rd, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Great write-up, one of the things I really found interesting is that the weight of the reviewers in the various categories can be seen as a local expert.

    It does make me wonder though if these local experts could be bought for reviews in their niche, thoughts Bill?

    Reply

    • Bill Slawski

      October 23rd, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      Hi Nathan,

      Google is the decision maker determining who may be a local reviewer, and deciding where those reviews are taken from, and whether or not they will be used to boost local rankings. I wonder if an individual could earn enough as a local reviewer to make a living doing that, especially since Google is in charge of so much. I could see Google trying to encourage people to write reviews, like Google’s Local guides. We don’t know for certain if Google will start using reviews in this manner, and if they would tell people that they are, if they decide to.

  10. Andy Kuiper

    October 23rd, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    A good read. This makes a lot of sense. Assessing the value of the reviewer with respect to their perceived ‘expertise’ in a particular niche coupled with a possible location relevancy might be good indicators of their value. So it may not just be ‘how many’ reviews one gets, it may also be now the perceived importance of the reviewer – I like it πŸ™‚ – thanks Bill for sharing πŸ™‚

    Reply

    • Bill Slawski

      October 23rd, 2017 at 6:55 pm

      Hi Andy,

      I liked the location relevance built into this approach. It may show people results that they care about more. We will see if we start seeing reviews used like this in the future.

    • Bill Slawski

      October 23rd, 2017 at 6:55 pm

      Hi Andy,

      I liked the location relevance built into this approach. It may show people results that they care about more. We will see if we start seeing reviews used like this in the future.

  11. Jennifer L Metro

    October 25th, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Great stuff Bill. It gave me a real thrill. Nerds rule! Keep up the good work.
    Honestly, I offer Reputation Management among other things. I have heard reviews are a local ranking factor. I now see evidence for this. If limited to local expert reviewers. Thanks.
    Does the patent refer to organic search results or the local map area of search?
    Thanks again Bill. You the mensch.

    Reply

    • Bill Slawski

      October 25th, 2017 at 11:41 am

      Hi Jennifer,

      The patent refers to boosting local search results rather than organic results. So yes, it involves the Google Map (and map pack) results.

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