How Ranking Works In Pinterest's Guided Search

Chris CrumSearch

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Pinterest launched Guided Search last April as a new way to help users discover content with some nudging in the right direction. It's basically Pinterest's way of suggesting search refinements as you browse. For example, if you search for "pasta," you might be presented with options like: recipes, dishes, salad, packaging, one pot, shrimp, sauce, chicken, etc. If you click sauce, for example, you'll get results that are pasta sauce-based, but also a new set of guides, such as: homemade, recipes, with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, healthy, easy, creamy, etc. And so on, and so on.

"Guided Search helps Pinners refine and discover more relevant results for the answers that differ from person to person," a spokesperson for Pinterest tells WebProNews. "As we build a discovery engine, searching is a key way for Pinners to find and save ideas Pinned by others. Searches derived from clicking on guides is one of the major sources of our search traffic, with guide clicking up 3x over the last 6 months."

Guided Search Ranking Factors

Pinterest is now sharing some information about how guides for Guided Search are generated and ranked. Again, this is guides, not pins. They use the following signals: interests to guides, quality of results of composed queries, location, gender, current trend, and spam detection.

Interests to guides looks at how users click each guide of a query. The more interest the user shows in a guide, the higher that guide is ranked. Quality of results of composed queries refers to how confident Pinterest is with the search results after the user clicks a guide. Confidence is calculated based on how users click the result pins and how often they add them to their boards. It also takes into account the quality of third-party web pages that the result pins link to. The more users like the results of a particular guide, the higher the guide ranks.

Location is pretty self-explanatory, but it's effective. Pinterest started using it as a ranking signal last month, and says it has seen a 5% to 10% increase in guide clicks in some countries as a result. Guide location scores factor in how much interest users from various countries show in each guide.

Here's a look at the same query in both the U.S. and U.K.

"In general, male Pinners have different interests in guides than females, and so we rank guides differently based on what's trending for each group. Gender scores are orthogonal to location scores in ranking. For example, male users in Mexico see guides ranked specifically for their demographic," says Pinterest software engineer Kevin Ma. "We built a time sensitive scoring function to detect the current trend of users’ interests in guides. This function applies a recency boost to guides that have a momentum in ranking. If a large number of Pinners are interested in a guide in a short amount of time, this guide becomes a popular guide. Popular guides can be boosted to a higher rank for days. Once they lose their momentum, meaning less people are engaged to this guide, the function quickly ranks the guide to a later position."

The spam detection signal just means Pinterest removes any spammy Pins it finds from guide ranking.

How People Are Using Guided Search

On average, Pinners click 3.6 guides daily when using Guided Search, Pinterest says. Interestingly, men are more likely than women to click guides, and often do so on topics related to Art, Cars, Fitness, Health, Men’s Fashion, Outdoors and Shopping. This is good news for Pinterest, which recently shared some other stats about how it's growing its male user base, which grew 73% year-over-year in the U.S.

Pinterest also recently announced additional search improvements aimed at better targeting of search results based on gender.

"We’ve already seen these improvements result in a double digit lift in engagement, similar to recent updates to the new user experience which show trending interests for each gender to choose from as they get started," Pinterest told us.

Women Pinners apparently use guides most when they're searching in categories like Food and Drink, Home Decor and Technology.

Pinterest says users outside of the U.S. use guides more often than U.S. users, with the highest click rate occurring in Mexico. Pinners in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines and the U.K. are also more likely to click a search guide than those in the U.S., according to the company.

The company says fitness-related searches also get some of the highest click-throughs of guides.

"Guided Search launched on mobile first and was designed with a small screen in mind and optimized for tapping instead of typing, so it's no surprise guides are clicked more often on mobile than web," the spokesperson says. "Pinners on iPhone are 50% more likely to click a guide than those on web."

Pinterest finds that users are more likely to click guides during weekend rather than weekdays.

Guided Search Helps Pinterest Understand Intent

PInterest revealed earlier this month that since adding Guided Search, the average number of searches per person grew by 25%. At the time, the company explained that it's getting better at understanding search queries. For example, with guides in action, it learns more about intent, and can better deliver on something like turkey recipes vs. Turkey the country.

"The more people search, the better we can suggest results," wrote Pinterest software engineer Dong Wang. "From the previous example, we can guess that the next person who issues the query 'turkey' may also be interested in the 'turkey recipes.' The information extracted from previous query log has shown to be effective in understanding the user’s search intent. Search context such as adjacent queries in the same search session and clicked Pins after submitting a search query can help us improve the discovery experience for future searches. To capture the information about a search query and make it available for other applications to process, derive signals and build features on top of it, we designed a data collection called QueryJoin."

QueryJoin contains the search query (which is its identifier), demographic stats (gender, country, language), adjacent queries, and pins. Each pin comes with aggregated data from "PinJoin," which is a data collection of a cluster of pins with the same image signature and info). It also looks at engagement stats like number of clicks, repins, and likes. More on QueryJoin here and PinJoin here.

"Guides change based on engagement, so the more people search and pin, the better the experience gets," says Ma. Check out his blog post on the Pinterest engineering blog for a deeper dive into how guides are created on the back end.

What Does Guided Search Mean for You?

Pinterest obviously offers websites some traffic opportunities. According to Shareaholic, it's the second biggest driver of social media traffic referrals behind Facebook.

In a recent article, we looked at some ways you can optimize your own content and pins for better performance in PInterest search. This includes tips directly from Pinterest, as well as some insight from an ebook written by Pinterest marketer Vincent Ng. In short, you need to optimize your pins as well as your website for Pinterest sharing.

We also interviewed Ng about how businesses can get more out of their PInterest marketing efforts. Among other things, he talked about Guided Search.

“Guided Search allows for businesses and marketers to see what other topics or products people may be interested in,” he said. “For example, you may be in the business of selling wedding dresses, but you’re not too sure what dresses are popular. When you use Guided Search, it tells us that people are looking for princess wedding dresses, vintage wedding dresses, and lace wedding dresses and so much more. Now you can create boards and pins around those specific topics and keywords. You don’t have to guess what people want. Guided Search will tell you what people want.”

Pinterest says it will continue to work on making Guided Search more personal and localized with additional updates planned for throughout the year.

Image via Pinterest, Shareaholic

Chris Crum

Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.