Supporting keyword search in product database: A probabilistic approach

Huizhong Duan, Cheng Xiang Zhai, Jinxing Cheng, Abhishek Gattani

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


The ability to let users search for products conveniently in product database is critical to the success of e-commerce. Although structured query languages (e.g. SQL) can be used to effectively access the product database, it is very dificult for end users to learn and use. In this paper, we study how to optimize search over structured product entities (represented by specifications) with keyword queries such as \cheap gaming laptop". One major dificulty in this problem is the vocabulary gap between the specifications of products in the database and the keywords people use in search queries. To solve the problem, we propose a novel probabilistic entity retrieval model based on query generation, where the entities would be ranked for a given keyword query based on the likelihood that a user who likes an entity would pose the query. Different ways to estimate the model parameters would lead to different variants of ranking functions. We start with simple estimates based on the specifications of entities, and then leverage user reviews and product search logs to improve the estimation. Multiple estimation algorithms are developed based on Maximum Likelihood and Maximum a Posteriori estimators. We evaluate the proposed product entity retrieval models on two newly created product search test collections. The results show that the proposed model significantly outperforms the existing retrieval models, benefiting from the modeling of attribute-level relevance. Despite the focus on product retrieval, the proposed modeling method is general and opens up many new opportunities in analyzing structured entity data with unstructured text data. We show the proposed probabilistic model can be easily adapted for many interesting applications including facet generation and review annotation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1786-1797
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of the VLDB Endowment
Issue number14
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Event39th International Conference on Very Large Data Bases, VLDB 2012 - Trento, Italy
Duration: Aug 26 2013Aug 30 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Computer Science(all)


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