Google was granted an interesting patent today. The title is "System and method for modulating search relevancy using pointer activity monitoring". Here is how the abstract for the patent describes it:
A method and system of modulating search result relevancy use various types of user browsing activities. In particular, a client assistant residing in a client computer monitors movements of a user controlled pointer in a web browser, e.g., when the pointer moves into a predefined region and when it moves out of the predefined region. A server then determines a relevancy value between an informational item associated with the predefined region and a search query according to the pointer hover period. When preparing a new search result responsive to a search query, the server re-orders identified informational items in accordance with their respective relevancy values such that more relevant items appear before less relevant ones. The server also uses the relevancy values to determine and/or adjust the content of an one-box result associated with a search query.
"The patent presents a couple of assumptions about how mouse pointer movements can be interpreted," explains Bill Slawski at SEO by the Sea, who presents a much more readable explanation of the patent. "For example, a longer hover over a result may indicate a positive opinion about how relevant a listing on the results page might be to a query. And, if someone moves their mouse pointer across a snippet line by line at a normal reading speed, it may indicate a higher level of attention to that result than if pointer was kept in a static position or moved randomly."
"So, the speed and movement of a mouse pointer as well as where it is placed on a search result page might be tracked to see how much attention a search pays to different search results," he adds. "If someone hovers over one sponsored listing, or ad, but not another, that might indicate more attention and interest in the ad hovered over. If a local map is shown, or a definition, or some other OneBox result, and the searcher viewing the page hovers over those OneBox results for a while, that could be an indication that the map or the definition or other OneBox listing was helpful."
The patent was filed all the way back in 2005, and like Slawski notes, there's no telling if Google will actually utilize it. A lot can change in 5 years, especially in this industry. Either way, they've been granted the patent. You can read it here.