Google Search Algorithm Patent Application Creates Spring Buzz!
Google applied for a patent on their ranking algorithm as of 15 months ago on December 31, 2003 and that application was posted on March 31st at the US Patent Office. It got the discussion forums buzzing this weekend. Even though I had substantial work to do and was behind on a project, I couldn't resist the temptation to read the very long 14,000 word, 45 page application and see what it could mean to the volatile world of search.
So I tripped on over to the the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) and started reading the document United States Patent Application: 0050071741 seems to be Google applying for a patent on their search algorithm. There seems to be no reference to PageRank here, but it seems to be PageRank redefined with a few variations to limit link spamming and reduce stale results, along with multiple innovative elements not previously considered.
They discuss link spamming limitations extensively, which would be a welcome relief as Linking Psychosis is rampant and I'd like to see an end to it. Much of historical data related to pages seems to be a bit onerous because it would appear to limit the perceived value of a page unless it becomes wildly popular over time. Bigger is better seems to be a enduring theme of this algorithm as described generically in text of their application.
An odd addition to the historical ranking discussion is amazingly - the "Advertising Traffic" for a particular document! They will rank a site based on the advertiser choosing to advertise on a particular site. If Amazon wants to advertise on your site, then Google will rank you higher!
That's good, I guess, if you have a site that attracts highly rated advertising, and don't rely on cross promotion of your separate products or those of suppliers to appear in your site advertising. Example: If I have a discussion forum on coffee, don't I want to advertise my coffee products? Why would I serve ads from highly rated advertiser Starbucks to rank higher at Google? What if I sell thousands of products and simply cross promote and upsell my own products sitewide? Odd stuff, ranking based on advertisers.
How does affiliate advertising factor into that advertising element of the algorithm? Do they know you are advertising a book from Amazon as part of affiliate program through your direct Amazon affiliate program links and do they recognize tracking links through affiliate management companies differently than the tracking URL's of ad serving monsters like DoubleClick and confer higher ranking upon the big boys of advertising above affiliate tracking firms?
Also seems to call into question their own Adsense ads and how that factors into this algorithm! Do the Adsense ads along my blog border gain more ranking score because it is from a monster advertising company - Google - or is it downgraded because I'm not a "Premium" advertiser serving over 20 million content page views? Again, seems that reward for being large outweighs relevance in this formula. Or does it? How do they value Overture advertising in the formula? Adbrite? Smaller ad networks versus large advertising aggregators?
They extensively discuss historical data related to rankings over time, looking at seasonality, popularity during spikes in traffic due to news coverage of a particular topics and changes in ranking related to those items. The historical data related to ranking over time are interesting since they refer to link spamming, relevance, and topicality when they say:
"As a further measure to differentiate a document related to a topical phenomenon from a spam document, search engine may consider mentions of the document in news articles, discussion groups, etc. on the theory that spam documents will not be mentioned, for example, in the news. Any or a combination of these techniques may be used to curtail spamming attempts."
They've added another interesting element in the algorithm of determining value of pages based on "user maintained/generated data" (patent item 113) read that "bookmarks" and "favorites lists" built into your browser. Is this one of the reasons that Google recently hired Ben Goodger, the lead developer of Firefox?
Snooping into my favorites and cookies on my machine seems like a bit more than I want Google doing on MY machine. It strains the limits of privacy as well. We can stop sites from serving us cookies, but can't stop who reads them? Ouch!
Further, they reference user's browser cache files as a method of determining value of a site. "For example, the "temp" or cache files associated with users could be monitored by search engine to identify whether there is an increase or decrease in a document being added over time. Similarly, cookies associated with a particular document might be monitored by search engine to determine whether there is an upward or downward trend in interest in the document." Apparently they can see this info, but I'd like them to stay out of my cache and cookies too!
It appears to apply further penalties to new sites by keeping them poorly ranked for even longer periods and applies an apparently new item to algorithms not seen or (at least discussed publicly) of long term purchase of domain names and historical data related to IP address and hosting company! Here's the snip about that longevity of domain registration to ranking:
" Certain signals may be used to distinguish between illegitimate and legitimate domains. For example, domains can be renewed up to a period of 10 years. Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain and, thus, the documents associated therewith."
I'll be extending the term of my domain registrations ASAP! What a boon to registrars if that element of ranking becomes as valued as linking has been! Everyone will get 10 year registrations if they want to rank well. The domain name aftermarket will also be changed dramatically if this becomes as important as this element makes it appear to ranking. People will buy and sell domains when disposing of them rather than simply letting them expire at the end of the registration period, as most do now.
It appears they will be penalizing domains "associated" with "illegitimate" domains. Hopefully they have a method of determining that it isn't a competitor linking to your domain from their "illegitimate" domain! That suggests they will be able to eliminate "Domain Scrapers" that have been known to scrape search engine results of high ranking domains and posting those on "illegitimate domains" which in effect drags down the ranking of those previously highly ranked domains. How odd the search world is sometimes!
Altogether, it seems that older content will suffer overall because it hasn't changed, because nobody new is linking to it and because it will lose links over time. What if you are posting a historical document that you can't change or an authored piece that is copyrighted? Does it decrease the value of the information? Hmmmm. I guess links would continue to increase if the information remains valuable, so there is some protection in that. But older site content may be unchanged because it is popular, not because it is stale - that's an odd Catch-22.
The anchor text issue discussed in this patent application suggests that " Unique Words, Bigrams, Phrases in Anchor Text " are significant in determining rank, because if natural links develop, they would vary when webmasters link to a document differently, some would use the URL and embed the link in that, others would use requested text from the webmaster if it were a link request that successfully garnered a link and still others might simply use Google's own Blogger "Blog This" link which simply takes the page title. (I routinely change link text generated by "Blog This" in my blog posts to emphasize the topic discussed and eliminate business/publication names usually added ahead of the topic of the page.)
The US Patent office has a link to images including illustrations and figures that are linked to the filing but they are absurdly large and don't fit in the viewable framed window. This is silliness. Do they mean to hide it by making it unviewable?
I'll attempt to post a smaller version of images on my blog.
The final notable item seems to me to be the clickthrough data that Google sees to sites from their own search results. They will rank site higher that get significant clickthrough rates from the Google SERP's.
"Google may monitor the number of times that a document is selected from a set of search results and/or the amount of time one or more users spend accessing the document. Search engine may then score the document based, at least in part, on this information."
How will they know how long I spend accessing the document unless they can monitor my actions AFTER I've left the Google SERP's to visit the linked site? Wonder what's at work in that? Do they have some way of tracking our actions after we leave their site? I wonder if this has anything to do with the Google acquisition of Urchin traffic statistics company last week.
Well, it's back to work for now, but it will be interesting to see where this patent application is discussed in forums and SEO blogs over the coming week.
Mike Banks Valentine is a Search Engine Optimization Specialist and blogs about the search world at: http://RealitySEO.com while operating a small business ecommerce tutorial at: http://website101.com
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