One of the curses of having an English degree in literature (who would think that would come in useful) is that you pay too much attention to language patterns, and the way people speak. I noticed for instance, that it was pretty common, at the recent SES in San Jose, for search engineers, giving presentations, or in conversations tend to start many sentences with the word "So," as in:
"So, if you think about..."
"So, if we were to...."
"So, you have this..."
I guess that's part of the cost of presenting hypothetical situations and theories to others.
Another word that kept on showing up in the presentations and conversations from these search engine representatives was the word "signals." Mike Grehan and I were both in the audience during a presentation titled "Link Building Q&A" and Mike wrote a column for Clickz which emphasizes the word:
Sending Signals to Search Engines
I liked this quote from Mike's article a lot:
I feel certain, though, that search engines can glean a lot more temporal analysis related to linkage data when it's combined with the other signals they talk about, such as burstiness, end-user behavior data, social search, and personalization.
I do think that search engines still place a lot of reliance on links, but am convinced that understanding user queries - like seen in our thread on the AOL data, is playing a larger and more important role in determining relevance. There have been a number of mentions in recent white papers and patents which mention search engines collecting information from ISPs about user behavior. I wrote about a patent that was granted last week for Overture/Yahoo which describes some ways of collecting and using that information in:
How a Search Engine Might Use Information from an ISP While Capturing Traffic Flows
I think one of the most important aspects of that is the idea that it is a "traffic flow" that a search engine is looking at, and they can capture information over time, which shows how some sites are more popular than others and are attracting traffic in response to searches and other methods of getting people to a site. What role might that have in ranking or reranking a page?
We've talked about Google's patent involving Information Retrieval based upon Historic Data in a number of threads here. Here's a paragraph from that which discusses some signals based upon this type of information:
 In addition to history of positions (or rankings) of documents for a given query, search engine 125 may monitor (on a page, host, document, and/or domain basis) one or more other factors, such as the number of queries for which, and the rate at which (increasing/decreasing), a document is selected as a search result over time; seasonality, burstiness, and other patterns over time that a document is selected as a search result; and/or changes in scores over time for a URL-query pair.
This is a paraphrase of an answer that I received when asking a question during that Link Building Q&A session:
There are a lot of "signals" that search engines look at when determining relevancy and rankings.
Thinking about an information stream like this, I think that we need to expand our thoughts of rankings and relevancy beyond what we commonly call "on page" factors and "off page" factors to another additional category which looks at how our sites fit within that information stream. How well do our sites perform when we look at them from the perspective of users clicking on pages dealing with topical subjects?
This paper talks about burstiness some more:
Bursty and Hierarchical Structure in Streams
One of the reasons why I like blogging so much is that it gives me a chance to write about subjects that are topical, and that will attract viewers based upon what is popular and interesting today. By keeping an eye on conversations going on upon the web within my targeted niche, and taking part in them, I become part of that information stream. For example, Google recently acquired Neven Vision, a company that makes face and object recognition software. I conducted research at the US Patent Office and wrote about the patents which the company had been granted, which helped my site become part of the topical information stream.
This is something that can be done in many different industries, by keeping an eye on what people are thinking about and talking about. It's one of the potential benefits of blogging.
What signals do you think are becoming more important, and how are you taking advantage of being within an information stream?