Bill Slawski recently called attention to a patent that describes a way to apply generic ratings to content as part of a process of modifying search results. The patent applies to search results, media content, books, websites and games and describes a way to show modified search results where some of the results are blocked from being displayed.
The patent mentions the phrase “search results” 95 times and the phrase “search result” 40 times.
So if you are interested in search, then this patent may be of interest, particularly if your practice of search encompasses text, video, audio and other forms of media.
Caveat About Google Patents
Google files many patents but it rarely confirms whether or not the algorithm described in the patent is in use in the search results.
At this point nobody knows whether the algorithms described in this patent are currently in use or will be in use.
How to Understand this Patent
In order to understand any patent (or research paper) it’s always a good idea to start reading from the beginning of the document. The beginning of the document is where it tells you what the patent is about.
People who scroll through the patent to locate the “interesting parts” tend to misunderstand what the patent is about because they don’t know the context of those “interesting parts.”
So if we begin at the start of the document, the patent abstract tells us what the patent does and how it does it.
The Problem that the Patent Solves
The section of the patent titled, Background, tells us the problem that this patent solves.
It states that users are interested in accessing content from all over the world. But the problem with getting that content is that different rating systems apply in every country.
Here is what the problem that the patent says it solves:
“Users are interested in accessing content (e.g., television programs, movies, books, videos, music, news articles, Web sites, etc.) that originates from many different countries, regions, or other groups.
Each country, region, or group may use a different rating system used to indicate content which contains material (e.g., violence, pornography, etc.) or which may be unsuitable for particular ages.
However, it can be difficult to understand the rating systems of different countries to filter content.
Accordingly, it is desirable to provide new methods, systems, and media for presenting content based on a generic content rating.”
What the Patent Does
The abstract at the beginning of the patent lists multiple things that the invention described by the patent does.
It begins by stating that it’s a way to present content based on generic ratings.
“Methods, systems, and media for presenting content based on a generic rating are provided.”
One of the prominent features of this patent is how it takes localized ratings, ratings from different countries and then converts them into what Google calls, “generic ratings.”
Generic ratings is a standardized rating system that an algorithm can use to rank and show the content that a user requires.
In this way the algorithm can apply a ratings standard regardless of what country the user is in.
In the below description, the patent uses the name “Process 700” to represent the algorithm.
The patent states:
“Process 700 can convert the content ratings associated with the received search results to generic content ratings….
As a specific example, in instances where a country-specific content rating is a United States content rating of “TV-G,” process 700 can determine that the generic content rating is to be “suitable for all ages.
Process 700 can use any suitable information and/or technique(s) to convert a country-specific content rating to a generic content rating.”
How the Process Does What it Does
Next it goes on to list the different things that the invention does.
This part is interesting because it provides the background information for understanding what it does and how it does it.
I have reformatted the description to make it easier to understand.
This is how it explains what the patent does:
“In some implementations, the method comprises:
- receiving search results;
- determining country-specific content ratings associated with the search results;
- converting the country-specific content ratings to generic content ratings associated with the search results;
- determining that at least one search result is to be blocked based on the generic content ratings and a user-selected generic content rating restriction;
- in response to determining that a search result is to be blocked, removing the search result from the search results to create modified search results;
- causing the modified search results to be presented;
- receiving a selection of content from the presented search results;
- determining a country-specific content rating associated with the selected content;
- converting the country-specific content rating to a generic content rating;
- determining that the selected content is not to be blocked based on the generic content rating and the user-selected generic content rating restriction; and causing the selected content to be presented.”
There are twenty one things listed that this invention does.
Here is a restated (and reformatted) version of the above description that is found in the section of the patent called Claims.
Out of the 21 claims made for the patent, this is the first claim:
“A method for presenting content based on a generic content rating, the method comprising:
- receiving one or more search results corresponding to a search query;
- determining location-specific content ratings associated with the one or more received search results;
- converting, using a hardware processor, the location-specific content ratings to generic content ratings associated with the one or more search results by transmitting an indicator of the location-specific content ratings to a server and receiving, from the server, the generic content ratings;
- determining that at least one search result is to be blocked based on the generic content ratings associated with the one or more search results and a user-selected generic content rating restriction;
- in response to determining that at least one search result is to be blocked, removing the at least one search result from the one or more search results to create modified search results; and causing the modified search results to be presented.”
The other 20 claims go into fine detail of how the first claim is accomplished, like claim number 8:
“A system for presenting content based on a generic content rating…”
Where the Process Happens
The patent describes the devices that a user will use when retrieving the content that is subject to being ranked by ratings.
This is important because it tells us what the context of the ratings and rankings are.
The context is accessing the content through mobile devices, desktop devices, but also through devices like televisions.
This is what the patent says are examples of user devices where the ratings-ranked content will be shown:
“User device …can include any one or more user devices suitable for receiving and/or presenting content.
For example, in some implementations, user device …can include mobile devices, such as a mobile phone, a tablet computer, a laptop computer, a vehicle (e.g., a car, a boat, an airplane, or any other suitable vehicle) entertainment system, a portable media player, or any other suitable mobile device.
As another example, in some implementations, user device …can include non-mobile devices such as a desktop computer, a set-top box, a television, a streaming media player, a game console, or any other suitable non-mobile device.”
The Kinds of Content that is Rated and Ranked
The patent describes the kinds of content that is rated and it seems to cover almost every kind of content that there is at this time.
The patent describes a process of receiving content and then rating that content. The content that is received and rated can be search results, websites, movies and even books.
Here is what it says:
“In some implementations, the mechanisms described herein can receive content (e.g., search results, media content, books, Web sites, and/or any other suitable content) from different countries, locations, and/or groups, and can convert a specific content rating associated with the content to a generic content rating.”
Next it describes using a user-selected content rating to rank the content. For example, if someone is on their phone and they want something that is child-safe.
The patent describes the process:
“In some implementations, the mechanisms can determine a user-selected generic content rating restriction and can determine whether the received content is to be blocked based on the user-selected generic content rating restriction and the generic content rating corresponding to the received content.
In some implementations, in response to determining that the content is not to be blocked, the mechanisms can cause the content to be presented on a user device.”
Takeaway About Modified Search Results
Something that isn’t widely understood is that there are many ways to rank a search result, and those ranking functions don’t always happen in the ranking engine where traditional ranking factors like links and so on happen.
This is the situation where a user asks a query and Google ranks results and then the algorithm modifies the search results and shows the modified search results.
The phrase “modified search results” is repeated twenty times in this patent.
“…removing the at least one search result from the one or more search results to create modified search results; and causing the modified search results to be presented.”
This is something to keep in mind when analyzing the search results and trying to understand why something is ranked. It’s not always because of “ranking factors” because there are many other ranking related processes going on.
Read Bill Slawski’s Article:
Read the Search Modification Based on Generic Ratings Patent
How To Use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper
There are a lot of tactics you can and should employ to achieve this, but that’s the goal.
And, as the Google brain has grown more complex, it’s able to display increasingly more detailed and helpful answers.
For example, if you’re looking to book a flight from Chicago O’Hare to LAX, Google can now show you options in rich snippets on search results pages.
Likewise, if you run a concert venue, you can add code known as structured data to your website that will encourage Google to display your events when they’re relevant to web searchers.
If you’re not familiar with the term “structured data,” don’t fret – there are a lot of SEO professionals and web marketers who aren’t.
In this article, we’ll set that right, plus give you tips on using the Structured Data Markup Helper to easily add it to your site.
What Is Structured Data?
As defined in this post, structured data is information (data) that is organized (structured). Organized information is basically what structured data is.
For SEO purposes, structured data is a specific type of formatting that gives Google information about the meaning of a page.
Following a standardized vocabulary outlined by Schema.org, it is used across several search engines, including Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex.
Structured data can use syntax like JSON-LD, RDFa, and Microdata, among others.
Why Is Structured Data Important?
There are several reasons why webpages use structured data.
For one thing, it makes navigation easier for both search engine crawlers and human users.
This is because it provides the information that can then be displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) in the form of rich snippets, video carousels, and other special search result features and enhancements.
This leads to faster indexing by search spiders and enhances your site’s search visibility. This can also help improve your click-through rate, increase conversions, and grab more voice search traffic.
In an article for Search Engine Journal, Winston Burton, Senior Vice President of SEO at global search and marketing agency Acronym, detailed the results of adding structured data to the client’s website.
With no other optimization strategies employed, the client saw a 400% net growth in rich result organic traffic and a 140% growth in impressions for the company’s answer center.
Even if this is a statistical outlier, it still highlights the massive potential of using structured data.
What Is Structured Data Used For?
Now that we’ve covered what structured data is and why it’s important, let’s look into some of the ways it can be used.
In an April 2022 Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout, Google Search Advocate John Mueller dove into structured data and its uses.
If you have 30 minutes to spare, it’s well worth the watch. If you’re in a hurry, the part that’s relevant to the current topic begins at 27:19. Or better yet, read Roger Montti’s coverage of it here.
In this hangout, Mueller was asked a question about how to choose the best format for structured data.
His answer was that it’s not so much about what format a page uses, but rather what kind of rich result is available for the page.
Structured data is very versatile and provides a lot of opportunities for businesses to use it to drive clicks. Some of these you may wish to take advantage of include:
Used for things that are part of the Google Knowledge Graph, they provide a quick overview of information about a topic.
As a business, you can use knowledge panels to give users at-a-glance information about your brand name, logo, and phone number, among other things.
Sometimes referred to as rich results, this is the additional data Google shows users in addition to normal search results. This may include things like music, events, or recipes.
For commercial purposes, this is where reviews can be shown. It can also highlight things like products, addresses, and special offers.
Common on mobile devices, this shows multiple “cards” from the same site.
Not to be confused with ordinary carousels, which can include images, video, and other data pulled from multiple sites, hosted carousels use content from only one “host” site.
Google currently supports the following types of hosted carousels:
- Educational Course.
For example, you could use them to provide information about a line of products, included features or services offered.
But, before you go inserting structured snippets into your webpages willy-nilly, you should know these are subject to standard Google Ads policies and must meet a number of requirements, a full list of which can be found here.
Getting Started With Structured Data
By now you should see the benefits structured data can offer, so let’s look at how to add it to your website.
The simplest way to add structured data to your webpage is by using Google’s Data Highlighter tool.
To use this, simply open the tool and highlight data like name, date, location, etc. with your mouse.
Google will note this information the next time it crawls your site and present the data in rich snippets on search results pages.
You can also manually markup elements on HTML webpages. Sound intimidating? It’s not. You just have to have a small working knowledge of coding.
For your convenience, we’ve provided a step-by-step guide to help you through the process:
- Open Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.
- Click the “Website” tab.
- Select the type of page you’re marking up (e.g., job postings, restaurants, Q&A page, local businesses, etc.)
- Enter the URL of an existing page or raw page HTML.
- Click “Start Tagging.”
- Highlight the parts of the page you want to be included in rich snippets and identify them in the dropdown that appears.
- Fill in the required information. For an event, this includes the event name, location, and date.
- After you have finished tagging, click the “Create HTML” button and choose an output format. JSON-LD is Google’s preferred format, though you can also choose Microdata.
- Copy the code or download it. If you are using JSON-LD, paste the generated code into the body of the existing page. If you choose Microdata, replace your page with the generated HTML.
Some other things to note:
- To test the generated code, copy and paste it into the Rich Result test, which will show you any missing fields you need to fill in.
- You can have multiple items on one page, but Google recommends that they are all the same type, e.g., all movies or all job postings.
- All pages you want to display rich snippets for should be available to the public and not hidden behind login screens.
- It may take a few weeks for Google to crawl your new page, but once it does it can be shown in rich snippets.
Is Structured Data A Ranking Signal?
Now for the $10,000 question: Will structured data markup help your site appear higher in search rankings?
In a deep dive into the topic, Search Engine Journal found that while it offers many benefits, there is no direct evidence schema markup is used by Google to determine search ranking.
That said, because it helps search engines more easily understand the content of your website, it can help you show up in relevant queries you may have been excluded from in the past.
Traffic is always the name of the game in digital marketing. And leveraging structured data on your website is a great way to help attract visitors.
Not only does it enhance the appearance of your content in search results, but it can help your site get indexed faster.
Rich results (particularly positive product reviews) can also significantly improve your click-through rate and average time on the page.
If your page is used in a featured snippet, it will show at the top of SERPs.
In addition to the increase in visibility that provides, featured snippets are used to answer voice search queries. That means you’ll be the only result for anyone who uses Siri or Alexa for a query.
The final reason you should use structured data on your website is that it gives you more control over your information.
You determine how Google understands your brand and allows you to control how your information is defined.
Structured data is a useful tool in your toolbox. It doesn’t work for every site and every type of content, but if you’re in a field where it is useful, it’s something you need to be using.
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