Oct 32012

SEO for an Aspect-Driven Search Engine

Over the past few years, murmurs and signs of a paradigm shift in how Google builds SERPs and returns information for users have surfaced. We’ve recently begun seeing the products of their work coming to life in a variety of ways as they continue to advance their abilities to digest and organize information. I’m specifically referring to a variety of recent patents and documents that have surfaced related to entities in search and aspect-driven search results. I believe that in these concepts lies a glimpse of the future of search…at least from Google’s perspective.

Background Reading (Highly Suggested)

The following articles, patents, and documents will give you some excellent background into what I’m talking about today and likely in future posts. I highly recommend digesting as many of these as you can!

Extracting Unambiguous Keywords from Microposts Using Web and Query Logs Data

Google and Metaweb Named Entities and Mashup Search Results

All Your Knowledge Bases Belong to Google 

Extracting Patterns and Relations from the World Wide Web

Knowledge Graph Introduction

Identifying Query Aspects

Identifying Aspects for Web Search Queries (heavily referenced in this post)

What is an Aspect: A Short Summary

In a patent published on www.jair.org in March of 2011 entitled “Identifying Aspects for Web-Search Queries”, the authors discuss in detail a new way of building SERPs for particular queries that shifts away from the typical keyword-driven ranked results to a set of results designed to summarize important aspects of the query. The method essentially utilizes search query logs and knowledge bases (such as Wikipedia) to understand important characteristics of a person, concept, place, thing, etc. A SERP can then be built that summarizes the “haystack” of information available.

Example (taken from the “Identifying Aspects for Web-Search Queries” Patent):

In this example, not only is there a grouping of information sets for a SERP to be built off of, but also a set of content types that could be utilized to develop a more intriguing SERP.

Something such as this...


So, what does this (potentially) mean? Google is beyond building rank-ordered single-page results. And to go one step further, the backbone of information and analysis that would allow for knowledge graph development can be used to build full SERPs, not just cool boxes on the right like the one above (IE knowledge graph implementation).

At this point, if this is a new concept to you, I hope your head is spinning a bit. The implications, I believe, are quite profound and could impact how we practice our craft and the skill sets that are requirements (not just desirable) for an SEO. Let’s look at how this form of SERP building could impact us.

1) Link Development – Could be big. This type of SERP creation and knowledge mapping indicates that there may be SERPs that CANNOT be manipulated easily by link development, or frankly, just about anything else you might do as an SEO (at least not directly to the SERP and assuming we’re behaving ourselves). Instead, you might need to untangle a thick web of Google information that’s being used to build this SERP in order to make certain aspects, or representative results for an aspect, more tantalizing to Google than what is currently being displayed.

Link development and other optimizations get you in the game, but in this scenario, all the quality links in the world may not help you improve your ranking or break into a SERP.

It’s important to think about developing links from beyond a simple quality/diversity/quantity/relevancy paradigm. Instead, think of how you might work to build links with an aspect-driven search engine. Important questions to think about might include:

  • What specific subject matter and website/company/person (Hello, AuthorRank, nice to meet you) is Google associating with this query and how can we earn recognition from them?
  • What signals other than links could Google be using to understand a person, company, site, etc. is the authoritative result to return?
  • What is the real value of a brand mention by an influential individual in a field even without a link?
  • What’s the value of a nofollow link?
  • What's the value of a reference on a wikipedia page?

2) Watch Social – In his discussion of the patent I reference above, Bill Slawski mentions another document (Extracting Unambiguous Keywords from Microposts Using Web and Query Log Data) that covers how Google may analyze social conversations and utilize the data as a form of knowledge base. What happens in social could be used to help construct SERPs when combined with a system such as Aspector.

Furthermore, understanding an individual and how a search engine views an individual becomes very important. I believe “AuthorRank” or “AgentRank” will play a significant role in the future of how Google constructs SERPs and determines order.

3) Content Development – This type of SERP construction also opens an almost endless array of discussion points surrounding content and its future importance. I believe the opportunity now exists to drive Google with developing unique content, establishing a site/business/person as the authority on the subject matter, tying it to keywords (even if they have zero search volume) and giving it all a boost with more traditional inbound and offline marketing tactics to either dominate a SERP or create your own. Branding becomes crucial as well as the offline/online synergy of marketing.

Example: Dos Equis Man


4) On-page optimizations – The basics are good, but it might be time to think seriously about whom we mention and discuss as signals of what we want to be associated with. Again, it may not even take a link but perhaps a mention of a specific brand or person (maybe with social profile link or handle reference?) that begins to create connections for Google to digest and understand. It’s crucial to be able to identify who is the expert on your subject matter and associate yourself through your own content with those businesses, people, resources, etc.

While highly theoretical, I believe these are important things to consider as we march forward. I also believe they're more integrated into search than we realize and are going to continue to cause havoc as strict SEO’s struggle to keep pace.  I'd also like to note that my discussion of these points merely brushes the surface of each.  Dig deeper, think, and analyze more!

Finally, I believe the SEO field is looking more divided, and this type of SERP development only supports my opinion. Technical expertise is extremely important for tapping the strengths your website already has, and it ties directly to successful on-page efforts. Watch though as linking building and off-page efforts become more and more lumped-in with other marketing initiatives related to content, which should encompass everything an organization pumps out, not just a few items for the web or social media.  This means different metrics should be watched beyond simply earning a link.  I could even see links becoming a secondary or tertiary metric at some point.


7 Responses to "SEO for an Aspect-Driven Search Engine"
Great article, Todd. Am I getting this right: the notion is that Google is identifying from query volume certain themes about a given search stem that seem to be most relevant and then constructing a SERP that exposes representatives of each theme? Implying that SEO's could conceivably both try to influence the order of themes, and look to the real "competition" for SERP prominence as other themes, and then the other pages within your theme? This seems like a HUGE deal.
George, I think you nailed the hypothesis (and I agree on the potential magnitude of what's theorized). We've run into a couple of SERPs recently that seem to be displaying this very structure, and there are a number of patents/documents that show Google's capability to build SERPs in this fashion supporting what we believe we're seeing. My feeling is (and the www.jair.org patent backs this up) is that it applies mostly for certain query types - not across the board. That means that in-depth SERP analysis is a MUST if you are serious about ranking for a term or a set of similar terms. Without that I believe you could easily spin your wheels doing things that just aren't that effective anymore. As I said in the post, this divides the world of SEO in my mind very much between technical/on-page and off-page marketing. It provides the chance to really "drive" a search engine in ways that we've had to follow because it was too dumb to understand what was happening around it. Glad you had a chance to dive in and hope you enjoyed it!
Jeff Bronson says:
The role of SEO's is definitely becoming divided, and I think that' s a great thing. In some senses, it's the commoditization of lower level SEO that can give this industry a bad name. Having a more thorough understanding of both offline and online marketing as a branded whole for clients is the way to go. This will help set knowledgeable practitioners apart, while a lot of the "garbage" from years past on the Internet will no longer fly.
@Jeff - Thanks for the comment and I agree. I think there will always be ways to game the system and sleazy SEO will always be around to one-degree or another until we no longer search in the same paradigm, but a truly skilled SEO will be capable of utilizing all the marketing a client is doing in order to grow their benefit from SEO. The real uniqueness to me in the SEO skill set is ability to handle understand technical concepts as well as business and marketing strategic, while being relational enough to bring different units of a business together. Great value in leveraging someone who can do all those things to benefit for your SEO.
Ava Naves says:
Thanks for writing such a comprehensive piece. To state the obvious, aspect search really seems to be a natural evolution to how Google is building its SERPs. If one looks at the entire digital space as a large collection of data, it only makes sense that Google would organize information from a variety of sites in such a way that visitors can have a fast glance at the information they're looking for (e.g. the Kobe Bryant scenario that you've presented). I can see how social signals will be an ever increasing part of this. It seems to me that this is good news to site owners and online marketers that focus on providing valuable content and forming real relationships online.


Check out what others are saying...
[...] has seen the influence of Google’s a priori knowledge of people, places, and things (known as entities) on web search results. These entities have certain aspects associated with [...]
[...] Tactics are not the focus of this article, but I do want to point out the importance of using the rel=”Author” tag.  We’ve been discussing the ramifications of this tag along with the role of Google+ around the office quite a bit lately, and it’s important because it ties into the idea of entities.  If you’re not familiar with this concept, check out this great write up of AuthorRank from A.J. Kohn over at Blind Five Year Old.  You’ll also want to spend some time reading up on entities, and a great place to start is this excellent blog post titled, “SEO for an Aspect-Driven Search Engine”. [...]

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