1/22/2010

Understanding the web to make search more relevant


Last year at our second Searchology event, we announced Google Squared and Rich Snippets, two approaches to improve search by better understanding the web. Today, we're kicking off the new year with two improvements based on those technologies. First, we're applying the research behind Google Squared to add a new "answer-highlighting" feature to search, and second we're expanding Rich Snippets to include events.

Answer highlighting in search results

Most information on the web is unstructured. For example, blogs integrate paragraphs of text, videos and images in ways that don't follow simple rules. Product review sites each have their own formats, rating scales and categories. Unstructured data is difficult for a computer to interpret, which means that we humans still have to do a fair amount of work to synthesize and understand information on the web.

Google Squared is one of our early efforts to automatically identify and extract structured data from across the Internet. We've been making progress, and today the research behind Google Squared is, for the first time, making search better for everyone with a new feature called "answer highlighting."

Answer highlighting helps you get to information more quickly by seeking out and bolding the likely answer to your question right in search results. The feature is meant for searches with factual answers, such as [meet john doe director], [john lennon died], or [what was the political party of president ford]. If the pages returned for these queries contain a simple answer, the search snippet will more often include the relevant text and bold it for easy reference.

Consider the example, [empire state height]. The first search result used to look like this:

With today's improvements, the answer —1250 ft, or 381 m — is highlighted right in the search result:

This kind of quick answer only makes sense for certain kinds of searches. For example, the answer to [history of france] can't readily fit in a search snippet. However, for the kinds of information you can easily put in a table, we've been able to take what we've learned from Google Squared to make search better for a wide range of queries. Answer highlighting is rolling out during the next couple days on google.com in English.

Rich Snippets for events

Sometimes the easiest way to understand somebody is by having a conversation. The web is similar. As much as we're happy with the progress we're making with Google Squared, we also appreciate that a great way to understand web pages is to simply ask webmasters to teach us (and other search engines) about their content. To that end, we continue to make improvements to our search results with Rich Snippets, enabling webmasters to annotate pages with structured data in a standard format.

So far we've launched improved search result snippets for reviews and people. When your search results contain web pages with review information, you might see the number of user reviews on the page and the average rating in the search result. When your search contains a public profile page about a person from a social networking site, you may see the person's location and occupation, or a list of her friends.

Today, we're announcing support for a new Rich Snippets format for events. The new format improves search results by including links to specific event names, dates and locations. Here's an example of a new event result from livenation.com if you search for [irving plaza]:


The new result format provides a fast and convenient way to identify pages with events and click directly to the ones you find interesting. If you're into Hip Hop Karaoke, you can quickly find out when and where the next show is in Irving Plaza, and click for more info. We've been working with a few sites to ramp them up for our initial launch, but it will take time for other webmasters to start implementing the new markup. Check out our blog post on Webmaster Central for more details.






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