Relevance and Importance of Search Results

Posted on February 4, 2010 | Tagged as: , | 0 comments

Whenever the user hits the search button on Google, Bing or Yahoo, the search engine returns a bunch websites that fit the user’s search term. In order to determine these results, the search engine needs to scan through its datastore of billions of websites and do two things: find those results that are relevant for the user and his term and rank those pages by their perceived importance.

Relevance describes the factor to which the documents and their content match the user’s search term and intention. Importance on the other hand is a way to determine how the relevant pages rank.

To determine relevance and importance, search engines rely on sophisticated algorithms for information retrieval (IR): document analysis (including semantic connectivity) and link analysis.

Document analysis and semantic connectivity

In document analysis, the search engine searches for the relevant terms in important structural elements of the document like the title, the metadata, heading tags and of course the text body. As simple, textual analysis is not enough, the engines also look at semantic connectivity. This refers to phrases or words that are typically associated with each other like browser and internet. Out of this the engines build up their own dictionary and thesaurus to determine related terms and topics. Based on this databases they use algorithms based on fuzzy logic to connect terms and understand pages and sites more clearly. This is done by measuring how often and in what contexts some terms are used together.

For example, by analysing the data the engine captured by crawling billions of pages, it would recognize, that the term photography trip often include landscape, architecture and travel.

Link analysis

By using link analysis, search engines measure which pages or sites link to each other and if these sites are trustworthy, based on the authority of sites linking to them. Link analysis does not only count the number of links – links form highly authoritative sites count more than links of lesser authority.

Another aspect of link weighting is the so called link neighborhood. Basically your site is placed in a neighborhood about the topic of your content. The number and quality of links to your site form sites in your neighborhood says something about how important your site is to that topic. So links from nonrelevant sites do not weigh as much as those from relevant ones.

The anchor text which is used linking to your page also plays a relevant role as it has a strong impact on determine relevant keywords. So a keyword rich link text has more value than the often seen “click here” (but keep in mind: search engines also take a look at the target’s content and if it fits the anchor text).

To sum up: Search engines can use semantic analysis to identify relevant web pages that focus on a certain topic matching the user’s search query. Link analysis on the other hand helps to determine which pages have the most links from other sites focusing on the same topic. These sites are most likely to be more authoritative on the topic than others with less links and are therefore ranked higher.

Of course there are a lot more ranking factors that influence the ranking of pages for a search query – but content and link analysis form the general idea behind most of them to determine the relevance and importance of search results.

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