How Google Enforces Category Diversity for Some Local Search Results
More Diversity in Search Results
Earlier this year, we were told that Google was making an effort to make the search results we see more diverse, by showing us fewer results from the same domains in response to a query. Search Engine Land covered that news with the post: Google search update aims to show more diverse results from different domain names.
Shortly before that news about more diverse results in organic search came out, Google was granted a patent in May which told us about how they might enforce category diversity in showing different points of interest in local search results, This post is about that effort to make local search results more diverse.
More Diversity At Google in 2013, in Past Search Results
Back in 2013. Google’s Former Head of Web Spam, Matt Cutts, published a video about more diverse search results in response to the question, Why does Google show multiple results from the same domain?
So this isn’t the first time we have heard about efforts from Google in trying to give us more diverse results, and they came out with a patent around that time to provide more diverse results as well.
I remember getting a phone call around 6 years ago from a co-worker who asked me why a client’s high ranking organic result might disappear from search results. I asked for the query and the client’s name and ran the search. The top-ranking result was a local result for the client. I told my co-worker that I was seeing that, and she told me that our client also used to have an organic result showing for that query, and a local result that wasn’t quite as high. It appeared that the organic result had been removed, and the local result had been boosted.
Coincidentally, I had written the following blog post the day before: How Google May Create Diverse Search Results by Merging Local and Web Search Results. I told my co-worker about the patent I had written about the day before, and sent her a link to that blog post. We were able to explain to our client what appears to have happened to their organic result for that query, that it looks like Google’s desire to have more diverse search results cause their page ranking organically was “merged” with the local result.
Category Diversity in a Patent Granted in 2019
I hadn’t seen anything quite like that merger between organic results and a local result happen again after that. It is impossible to tell if Google has been using that kind of merging since then. But that patent was all about providing more diverse search results to searchers. So when I see a patent, like this new one that tells us it exists to provide more diverse search results, I find myself wondering what, if anything could have been removed to make search results more diverse. If someone searches for “things to do in Carlsbad, California,” and they are provided with a list of restaurants to eat at, that would be disappointing, because while there are some nice restaurants here, there are plenty of other things to do.
By expanding to a category diversity from a diversity-based upon pages from the same domain, Google is giving us more diverse search results.
This new patent tells us about this category diversity in the following way:
When a searcher asks for points of interest information at a certain location, the local search system may generate a collection of candidate POIs and receives information relating to each candidate POI’s respective category and a score and rank within the category for each, and, for categories a searcher may select, promotes or demotes the score of each ranked candidate POI within its respective category through a scaling process.
It really is impossible to tell if Google has already implemented this patent which was granted in May. I tried some searches at different places to see if they showed diverse results for those places, and was given diversity in what I was being shown:
When I search for [points of interest Raleigh, NC], I get results that start out with a carousel of top things to do in Raleigh:
When I search for ][points of interest Carlsbad, Ca], I get results that start with a carousel of top things to do in Carlsbad:
I wasn’t surprised to see carousels for those particular queries, and I tried a few more, worded a little differently, which didn’t trigger carousels. The patent doesn’t mention carousels, though. But those results do show some category diversity.
The patent does provide a lot of details on how Google might demote some listings that are in categories that are over-represented, and promote some listings that are associated with categories that are under-represented.
The summary of the patent gives us the process behind it in a nutshell, telling us that the method behind it, includes receiving a request to:
Identify points of interest (POIs),
Obtaining data identifying
- Candidate points of interest (POIs) that satisfy the request
- A respective category associated with each candidate POI
- A non-scaled score associated with each candidate POI, ranking, for each of one or more of the categories, the candidate POIs associated with the category, based on the respective non-scaled scores, scaling, for each of the one or more categories, the non-scaled scores of the ranked candidate POIs associated with the category, ranking the candidate POIs using the scaled scores, for the candidate POIs that are associated with the one or more categories, and the non-scaled scores, for the candidate POIs that are not associated with the one or more categories, and providing data that identifies two or more of the candidate POIs, as ranked according to the scaled scores and the non-scaled scores
It goes on to provide much more depth about how category diversity might be achieved. And reading through it, it makes sense, that in an area where you may have a variety of 30-50 places that someone might want to visit, and five of those are Italian Restaurants, and the rest include other kinds of restaurants, museums, parks, beaches, theatres, stores, playgrounds, stadiums, nightclubs. You wouldn’t want to just tell a potential visitor to that location that there are five Italian Restaurants there and nothing about the diversity of other kinds of places.
Here is a little richer description of how Google may go about enforcing category diversity in response to requests for information about points of interest at different locations:
- Selecting, as the one or more categories, one or more categories that are each associated with more than a predetermined number of candidate POIs the predetermined number is two
- The method includes selecting, as the one or more categories, one or more categories that are each associated with one or more candidate POI
- Scaling, for each of the one or more categories that are associated with only one candidate POI, the non-scaled score of the ranked candidate POI associated with the category comprises multiplying the non-scaled score of the ranked candidate POI associated with the category by a factor of one
- Scaling the non-scaled scores of the ranked, candidate POIs includes increasing the respective non-scaled scores of the top n ranked candidate POIs
- Scaling the non-scaled scores of the ranked, candidate POIs includes leaving unchanged the non-scaled scores of one or more of the top n ranked candidate POIs
- Scaling the non-scaled scores of the ranked, candidate POIs includes decreasing the non-scaled scores of one or more of the top n ranked candidate POIs
- Dynamically determining a scaling factor to use to scale one or more non-scaled scores of the ranked, candidate POIs of a particular category based on a non-scaled score associated with a top ranked candidate POI of a different category; and/or the method includes dynamically determining a scaling factor to use to scale one or more non-scaled scores of the ranked, candidate POIs of a particular category based on a quantity of the candidate POIs of the particular category identified in the data.
That is a fairly complex approach to achieve diversity of results, but it seems to be one that will provide results that are truly diverse.
The patent on category diversity for local results can be found at:
Enforcing category diversity
Inventors: Neha Arora, Ke Yang, Zuguang Yang
Assignee: Google LLC
US Patent: 10,289,648
Granted: May 14, 2019
Filed: November 14, 2016
Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for enforcing the category diversity or sub-category diversity of POIs that are identified in response to a local search. According to one implementation, a method includes receiving a request to identify points of interest (POIs), obtaining data identifying (i) candidate points of interest (POIs) that satisfy the request, (ii) a respective category associated with each candidate POI, and (iii) a non-scaled score associated with each candidate POI, and ranking, for each of one or more of the categories, the candidate POIs associated with the category, based on the respective non-scaled scores. The method also includes scaling, for each of the one or more categories, the non-scaled scores of the ranked candidate POIs associated with the category, ranking the candidate POIs using the scaled scores, for the candidate POIs that are associated with the one or more categories, and the non-scaled scores, for the candidate POIs that are not associated with the one or more categories, and providing data that identifies two or more of the candidate POIs, as ranked according to the scaled scores and the non-scaled scores.
If I didn’t mention this patent, you may not have noticed a need for it. If it didn’t exist, and every time someone searched for something like [things to do in Carlsbad], and the same 5 Italian Restaurants showed up as things to do in town, you would notice that there isn’t much diversity.
I do find myself wondering what isn’t being included in These local results that are enforcing category diversity, but I do like seeing that diversity.
And if I want to see all of the local Italian Restaurants in the area, I can try another search for just for [Italian Restaurant].