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Delivering a Higher Standard of Google Search – Search On 2020.

This evening Google hosted Search On, their online summit to introduce the latest in AI developments being added to search. The event opened with Prabhakar Raghavan giving a summary of the 4 core principles that Google is focused on for improving and providing a higher standard of search. It’s important to remember these and keep them front of mind when you’re considering why Google has updated in a certain way, or what will perform best in search.

Traditional ranking factors are becoming increasingly diluted through the way that Google layers different ‘baby algorithms’ on to one another, which means simply optimising for a set of metrics isn’t possible anymore – instead, one of the keys to SEO success is understanding the why behind Google’s changes to then adapt your site. In this instance, Google is focusing on providing the best answers to searchers through having knowledge of all of the world’s information, knowing which is the correct/high quality information, and then providing users with secure and open access to that.

To look at the 4 principles in depth:

Understand the World’s Information.

Google has always focused on building the most comprehensive index of websites to rank search results and provide searchers with answers to their queries. The issue is, 15% of queries every single day are ones that have never been seen before. Think about that for a moment, if there are say, 3.5 billion searches happening every day, then that’s 525,000,000 searches every single day that have never been done before. That is a monumental amount of searches to find relevant, accurate information for with no prior knowledge of the query itself.

That’s where Prabhakar moved on to explain the advances they’ve made to the Knowledge Graph, showing how it had taken a step up from just looking at websites, to helping people know about the information and the world around them. The improvements made to the Knowledge Graph drill into related queries, so as well as providing an answer for the direct query, there are now answers for related queries right there in the search results waiting for you.

Part of expanding the Knowledge Graph was also enhancing the data available on places, and locations, and the latest updates here allow people to see things like how busy certain places are directly in Google Maps. While this feature has been around for local businesses for some time now, this latest update has seen it expanded to include new areas like parks and beaches – places outside of a physical location – showing how busy an area is both in real-time and throughout the day, so you can plan your visits more safely with COVID-19. The next phase of this is showing the busyness information directly in Google Maps – so you won’t even have to search for a business to see if it is quiet, you’ll be able to see it directly in the interface.

COVID-19 has been a fundamental driver for some of these updates, and soon business profiles across Google Search and Maps will show COVID-19 safety information for the business. With this, you’ll be able to see in the listing whether you are required to wear a mask, make reservations in advance, and other precautions the business is taking with its staff and customers. This is going to be huge for local businesses and it is highly likely that there will soon be enhanced schema available for this information as well.

Our recommendation right now? Optimise your local business listings, make sure your pages include information about your COVID-19 safety measures and precautions, and monitor schema.org like a hawk for an (almost certain) impending release.

The Highest Quality Information Available.

With everything happening in the world right now, the reliability of information is more critical than ever. As searchers, we need to be given factual, accurate information in real time, and that information needs to be updated as soon as it changes.

Prabhakar explained that the key to this is through two areas; natural language understanding and reviewing of the SERP results for their quality. When it comes to natural language understanding, last year huge advancements were made in this through rolling out BERT which allowed the search engine to understand the concepts around a word and themes, rather than just the word in isolation. When BERT launched it impacted 1 in 10 searches in the English language but we now see it present in close to every single search. Meanwhile, it’s also now rolling out across multiple regions and languages so if you’re working in these languages, be ready to see a similar impact to the english-language markets did when first launched.

There was also emphasis placed upon the rigorous testing on the quality of results and refinements made as a result of this, showing that Google is using more real-time data on if a SERP matches the user’s intent through monitoring behaviour, direct feedback and manual testing than ever before. This needs to be matched by a shift in focus from websites who are still optimising for keywords based solely on high search volume, to instead be optimising for SERPs where they can provide the best, relevant answer. Gone are the days when an irrelevant site with good optimisation and good links can outrank a site with the correct answer, but fewer traditional ranking signals.

World Class Security and Privacy.

Moving beyond just the search results, Prabhakar also covered another pillar of the ultimate search engine which is rolling out world class security and privacy. Whilst these have been a component of search, it’s rare that Google positions them as something so fundamental to a good search engine. This shows a shift in what ‘putting the user first’ means to Google and it stepping up to take responsibility for security after years of criticism over unsafe results and the turbulent times felt by other large corporations such as Facebook around data protection.

Google touched upon the scale of security issues that it sees online at the moment, acknowledging the blocking or removal from search of 25 billion spam pages per day and having to issue over 3 million safe browsing warnings a day to help people avoid these sites. They outlined how now both the users’ search query and the results it returns are now fully encrypted to increase the level of security to the average user.

Beyond this images were shown of how you can use your Google Account as a central hub for control over your privacy settings and what Google can do with your data, including how long it is stored. As there are more and more incentives to remain logged into your Google Account through connected home devices, ‘collections’ in search and the almost-universal adoption of ‘login via google’ on apps and many sites, this will grow in significance. They are rolling out additional features to make it simpler to automatically delete data stored about you and take control of your own online security.

Ultimately, Prabhakar stated that he believes “privacy is a universal right” and therefore Google is empowering individuals to maintain their privacy online.

Open Access for Everyone.

The fourth, and final, pillar that Google presented as essential to improving search experience was ensuring open access for all. There is a higher standard of search for users operating within the English language which is notable across how fundamental updates and new features are rolled out – the UK and US markets are notoriously further ahead when it comes to the complexity of how search works. Google talked about how it is investing in making search more accessible to everyone, regardless of language.

A vision of a free, fully accessible and fair web of information that is simply there to help users to the answers they need was described. Prabhakar was keen to emphasis that ranking factors and how things are indexed is applied fairly and evenly to all sites, and this universal scoring system to determine the ranking results helps to keep information accessible.

Want to Learn More?

So what does this mean in reality? Beyond Google’s ambitions to provide the best information for all users at every moment in their journey, they also announced some key changes coming which you can read more about in our other roundup posts:

  1. New Advancements in Search (talk 2)
  2. Enhanced Google Features (talk 3)
  3. Or check out the full event recording here

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