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Written by David Harry   
Friday, 11 January 2008 05:30

Google Bookmarks the new ranking signal?

We all know Google is all about the links right? Really, what is a search engine but a collection of bookmarks that is stored in a database that is searchable and ranked for consumption? It then stands to reason that using related data from your bookmarks as a ranking signal would be a great way to try and further deliver more relevant search results. Right?

Well that’s what some fine folks at Google seem to be thinking with a recent patent filing relating to the Google ToolBar and BookMarks; Bookmarks and Ranking (filed in Sept. 2006/ granted Jan 2008). I don't know too many people that even use the Bookmark feature, so maybe some new ideas can bring the masses in.... or maybe not.


Google Bookmarks for Personalized SERPs

The main idea here is that user’s bookmarks can be seen as a ranking signal to related and valued sources when delivering search results. By searching related listings (or searching the bookmarks themselves) they can define signals or document sets to be used in ranking results on a regular search query. So far this seems limited in scope to usage with the Google Toolbar (and Google BookMarks) but who knows, maybe some day they will get some passive data straight from your FireFox or IE Favourites, only the shadow knows...

Ranking via Google BookMarks


Proposed methods include;

… receiving bookmarks associated with one or more documents or sites and receiving user input defining how or if the bookmarks are to effect search results. The method may further include searching a corpus of documents to obtain search results and ranking the search results using the bookmarks based on the user input.


Though there could also be a less interactive element as well;

… obtaining a user's bookmarks, wherein the bookmarks identify documents associated with the user and executing a search based on a first search query received from the user to obtain search results. The method may further include ranking the search results and re-ranking the search results using the user's bookmarks.


For those of you not familiar with the existing system, Google BookMarks already possesses the ability to search your bookmarks ( see here) What is added is how this methodology can begin to overlap that ability within your natural search results which in of itself in an intriguing prospect.

 The ToolBar Connection

I would imagine the concept is to import your bookmarks from IE or Firefox into your Google bookmarks and voila… you’re ready to go!

The user may additionally specify how and if each document bookmark may be used when ranking search results.

Oh crap no…. I still have to go through and identify which ones I want included in my personalized search, no? There’s the bottleneck. I would find it to be an undertaking if I had to go through them marking which ones I wanted included in my search results and which I did not. The implementation could be sticky.

The proposed system would have options when book marking a document such as;

  • Move to top of search results for all queries
  • Move to top of search results for selected queries
  • Move to top of search results all URLs from a same site
  • Do not use for re-ranking search results

While I admire the attempt, I am still left wondering how many people are going to go through all of this with existing book marks. This is certainly a rough spot as far as actual adoption is concerned.  While only a minor inconvenience for new entries, those of us with runaway train loads may find such a task daunting to say the least. I have used the current incarnation of Google Bookmarks and really, it isn’t all that intuitive unless you use a club to pound out posts on your keyboard. It is interesting to use them as a custom search engine, but that’s about it so far.


Ramping Up Personalized Search

All of this starts to sound like Personalized Search meets Custom Search Engine. Obviously there are immediate issues as far as requiring user interaction which breaks the Google simplicity-chain and keeping it user friendly is important. Conversely though, not involving them in the levels of participation or weighting (implicit data) means ultimately a weaker signal is all that could be taken to ensure results for optimum searcher satisfaction. That is to say; if the end user is not aware of this ranking mechanism (implicit), or not involved in the process, one risks presenting results that may not be of interest and thus such a method would need to be devalued as a signal to be on the safe side.

The more explicit or active roll revolves around the user specifying which bookmarks they wish to be included (and valued) in the search results.  Your bookmarks may then be selectively used in ranking search results. The concept being that your bookmarked sites must be of value, thus consideration for extra bonus points (weighting) should be given. Once again though, it could have some legs here because obviously the end user is controlling not only what they bookmark, but which bookmarks are to be included (trusted) in their search results. This makes web spam tactics far more difficult as we have seen with other user engagement signals such as personalized search.


More layers of Spam proofing

I think that is what I like about this; much like personalized search this type of SERP personalization can further combat the amount of spam you will ultimately see in your search results. User performance and user engagement data combined with explicit factors from the end user (much like social search) would seemingly be a nightmare for the seasoned spammer. More and more, a static target in the form of a Global search results page, becomes a more distant reality.

Would people use it? Well I talked to a few folks today and put a few scenarios out there and most thought it sounded worthless but a few felt it would be a reason to use the ToolBar and Google Bookmarks more than they do now, which was NADA from what I could tell. This service might be able to pull in a few folks that aren’t currently using it, seems unlikely though.  For the most part not many of the real world people knew there was even such a thing as Google Bookmarks. It may be a long haul...

I for one would likely give Google BookMarks a second look with such an implementation, would you?


As always, for a more detailed break down check in with Bill Slawski whom covered this patent with; Google BookMarks and Personalization

Google Personalized Search, Google BookMarks & Link Building - Google Tags and Bookmarksl implications for SEO - Google BookMarks FAQ -


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