Loci 2009: Bill Slawski’s Important Patents of 2009

Here are links to 10 posts I wrote this year about things that I found in patents and white papers from the search engines. I’ve included links to the patent filings and whitepapers as well, and included the date that each post was published in parentheses after the links to those posts.

I broke them down into the following categories:

– Local Intent in Search
– Ambiguous Locations
– Synergy Between Local and Mobile
– Sentiment Analysis in Local Reviews

I tried to include a short introduction to each section as well, to provide an idea of why I thought those were important.


Local Intent in Search

On December 15th of this year, Yahoo started showing Yahoo local results within organic search results for query terms that they thought might have a local intent, even when that query didn’t have a geographic term included with it, according to a Yahoo blog post, Get More Personally Relevant Results When You Search for Local Businesses.

I noticed patent filings from Google and Yahoo, and a Yahoo whitepaper over the course of the year that gave us some hints on how each of the search engines might determine whether there might be a local intent in a query that doesn’t include a location. That kind of local intent associated with a query might trigger the appearance of local search results in organic web searches. Understanding why a query might be determined to have a local intent, without a location, has been helpful.

1. Google Local Search, Categories, and the What and Where of Local Map Listings (April 21st, 2009)

Google patent filing – Interpreting Local Search Queries

2. How a Search Engine Might Determine Whether a Search Involves a Geographical Intent (May 18th, 2009)

Yahoo whitepaper – Discovering Usersí Specific Geo Intention in Web Search (pdf)

3. How Search Engines Might Divine the Intent behind Regional Queries vs. Global Queries (December 14th, 2009)

Yahoo patent filing – Identifying Regional Sensitive Queries in Web Search

Ambiguous Locations

When a local search contains some ambiguous geographic information such as a landmark or area name such as “Space Needle” or “Times Square,” instead of an actual street, city, or state name, it might attempt to associate that limited geographical information with an actual location. People do search for hotels or restaurants or other types of businesses near landmarks. I wrote about a Google patent filing that explained how they might keep track of this information, and score locations when there is more than one landmark or area with the same name (such as “Times Square”). This was also the first place I had seen Google mention that they might include user-added data such as “my maps” submissions to help index what might be found at different locations.

1. Google Geocoding, Ambiguous Locations, and My Maps Submitted Data (July 13th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Geocoding Multi-Feature Addresses

Synergy Between Local and Mobile

In addition to announcing the launch of Google Latitude in February of 2009, Google Maps Navigation for Android in October of 2009, and the release of an official Google phone early next year, Google started taking some other steps that draw mobile phones and local search closer together.

Three Google patent applications published this year describe how barcodes in business windows can be used to help you learn more about a business, how mobile phone cameras may be used with product search and may use GPS to let you look at the online catalogs for stores you are presently shopping within, and how you can rate local businesses by phone while you’re still shopping.

If you’re following local search but skimming past information about tie-ins with mobile devices, you’re missing out on a very important element of local search.

1. Google Barcodes and Place Rank Transforming Local Search (December 10th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Machine-Readable Representation of Geographic Information

2. How Google Might Let you Shop by Camera Phone (December 28th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Image Capture for Purchases

3. Google Approach to Making Online Ratings Easier… (October 2nd, 2009)

Google patent filing – Ratings Using Machine-Readable Representations

Sentiment Analysis in Local Reviews

Google held their second annual Searchology event in May of 2009, and part of the big news was the addition of some “smart snippets” in search results that could contain things like ratings for restaurants. Another major announcement was the addition of sentiment analyis in reviews shown to searchers, in a new options section that provides reviews, and within the reviews that are shown in local search. Three Google patent filings published this year, and a Google White paper from 2008 provided some possible insights into how Google goes about understanding the sentiment of content found in reviews, how it might address sentiment in other domains, and how it might rate raters.

1. Opinion Summaries in Google Maps Reviews (August 4th, 2009)

Google patent filng – Aspect-Based Sentiment Summarization

2. Google’s New Review Search Option and Sentiment Analysis (June 12th, 2009)

Google White paper – Building a Sentiment Summarizer for Local Service Reviews (pdf),

Google Patent filing – Domain-Specific Sentiment Classification

3. How Google May Rate Raters (June 15th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Rating Raters

Bill’s bio if you want to know more about him:

Bill Slawski was born on the Jersey Shore and presently resides in Warrenton, Virginia. A graduate of the University of Delaware, and Widener University School of Law, he is the President of SEO by the Sea, Inc. He built his first web site in the mid-90s, started blogging in 2001, and has been working to promote a wide range of web sites for more than a decade. When he doesn’t have his nose buried in a search-related patent or white paper, he can be found digging into the code behind web sites, and exploring local history, music, and the environment.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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7 thoughts on “Loci 2009: Bill Slawski’s Important Patents of 2009”

  1. @Ryan

    I would suggest the patents as reading material to all. Bill does a great job filtering these but I always find tidbits in these even on 3rd, 4th or 5th rereads…

  2. Bill: Thanks for your review. Mike: Thanks for the series and citing Bill. Bill’s writings on patents is IMHO one of the most valuable sources of information about SEO. I’ve been following Bill’s blog for years (admittedly off an on). It provides critical insights for SEO, and clearly has provided critical information for Local SEO, both on the maps side and the organic side.

    I’ve had personal experience with the first topic, “Local Intent in Search”, for years. We have one local small business site that additionally ranks highly for the #1 industry term, and a variety of the secondary industry terms. This has been the case for years. Additionally, for years it ranked #1 in Yahoo for the industry term (no local modifier) and Yahoo somehow didn’t include the Local Terms from the Title in its rankings and Serps . OMG. We got traffic galore from Yahoo for the site during those years.

    Unfortunately it converted at a very low rate as the traffic was world wide, and the business/site is entirely local.

    During a period when Google first started showing a universal search map for phrases w/out geo modifiers, the site simultaneously was ranked 2nd for a period and 3rd for a period in Google organic rankings for the #1 industry term. The top 3 rankings sat above the Universal Search Maps insert.

    Traffic from Google was astronomic and conversions for that phrase were similarly extraordinary.

    Virtually no local businesses or SMB sites have that kind of visibility. My experience suggests that the estimates that approximately 50% of searches w/ local intent are made w/out geo modifiers are more than likely accurate.

    Frankly I’d put a lot of PPC money into campaigns for the industry phrases w/out geo modifiers….and run those campaigns on tight and logical geographic boundries. They work.

    In that there are so many searches for local goods and services that don’t include geo modifiers, its a definite improvement in search engine quality to provide maps of the local sources of these goods and qualities for these searches.

    If a searcher doesn’t like them….ignore the map and just scroll down the page and start reviewing organic serps results.

    Traffic and coversions soared. It was astronomical.

  3. @Mike

    Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts on these patents and whitepapers, Mike. Local is going to become more and more important than ever, especially with the explosive growth of people connecting to the Web with smartphones.

    I agree with you on revisiting patents – I find new things in them with the advantage of hind sight, and a fresh pair of eyes, too.

    I’m looking forward to the rest of the Loci 2009 series.


    Thank you very much for your kind words, Dave. I really appreciate hearing your experiences with many of the ideas that have been expressed in the patents and papers.

    The statement from the Yahoo whitepaper that only 50% of queries with Geo Intent included specific locations sounds pretty reasonable (though I would love to actually see their data). I do think that’s something that people involved in paid search should take serious note of.

  4. @Bill

    You are always welcome here!

    The hindsight and experience do change the reading thats for sure. You see something that doesn’t make sense, or you see it twice and then you go back and see that it was planned for right along…

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