Not only is Google changing the way it presents information to users and updating algorithms, it is also changing the way users search.
SEO best practices change every year, so it’s best to keep up to date on what it means to properly optimize a website today.
Signals Of Authenticity And Usefulness
Google has released five Product Review Updates since April 2021.
The related guidelines that Google has published for writing product reviews recommend certain on-page factors that must be present in order for the page to rank for product review-related searches.
This is an extraordinary change in the ranking of websites. Google has redefined what it means for a web page to be relevant to a search query.
The definition of relevancy simply meant that a webpage must present what the user was searching for, in this case product reviews.
Product reviews were generally seen as expressing an opinion about a product, comparing the product’s features to its cost and making a judgment as to whether or not something was worth buying.
But now it’s not enough for a website to review a product. It must also be authentic and useful. This is a big change in the ranking of websites.
Here are two Google ranking factors for product reviews introduced in December 2021:
“…we are introducing two new product rating best practices that will take effect in a future update.
Google calls them “best practices,” but also says they “take effect,” implying that something in the algorithm is looking for those two qualities.
The first signal concerns the authenticity of the product rating.
The second signal is specific to sites that don’t sell the reviewed products and is about being useful to site visitors by providing them with multiple stores to purchase a product.
Authenticity and usefulness as relevance signals are a big shift for SEO.
Search Is Increasingly About Context
Context is the environment in which something is said or done that gives meaning to those actions or attitudes.
The context of a search can affect the search results.
What’s happening is that Google is redefining what it means to be relevant by understanding user context.
When a user searches for [pizza], Google doesn’t show recipes for pizza; it shows local pizzerias.
Google defines the meaning of the keyword phrase “pizza” according to the user’s context, which includes that user’s geographic location.
Another context that affects search results is current events, which can change the meaning of a search term. This is part of the so-called freshness algorithm.
The Freshness algorithm takes into account time-based factors that can change the meaning of a search term and this affects which websites are shown.
So these are the geographic and temporal contexts that affect what it means to be relevant to a search query.
Search Is Increasingly About Topics
As noted in the Hummingbird 2013 update discussion, Google is increasingly moving away from keywords and towards understanding the multiple meanings inherent in search queries.
Google is also redefining relevance through the concept of topics.
When someone searches using the [Mustang] keyword, the most likely meaning is the car, right?
Screenshot from searching for [Mustang], Google, October 2022
In the screenshot above, Google lists several topics related to the Ford Mustang automobile.
Clicking on one of the topics listed above leads to a different search result.
Some of the top rated websites appear on different topics as they are relevant to multiple topics. Something to think about, right?
Screenshot from searching for [Mustang], Google, October 2022
Back in 2018, Google’s Danny Sullivan tweeted about a way to change search results by topic, which are the topic buttons we just discussed above.
“A new dynamic way to change outcomes quickly is coming, e.g. B. How to toggle to quickly switch across a dog breed.
This is supported by the Topic Layer, a way to leverage the Knowledge Graph’s knowledge of people, places, and things in topics.”
Screenshot from Danny Sullivan’s Twitter, October 2022
Google published a blog post about these changes and discussed them in the section titled “Dynamic search engine organization.”
In the article, Google explained that it organizes some searches by topic and subtopic.
“Every quest is different, and especially if you’re unfamiliar with the subject, it’s not always clear what your next quest should be to learn more.
That’s why we’re introducing a new way to dynamically organize search results, making it easier for you to determine what information to search next.”
Screenshot from blog.google, October 2022
People Also Ask (PAA) is a way for Google to help users navigate to the information they are looking for, especially when the user is searching with a vague keyword phrase like CBD.
The queries listed in the PAA are topics.
People like to think of them as keyword phrases, but they are more than just keywords. They are themes for content websites.
Screenshot from Google Search, October 2022
Click on the first topic “Does CBD work?” reveals an article on whether CBD products work.
Screenshot from Google Search, October 2022
Some people and tools like to use each individual People Also Ask suggestion field as keywords for use in a single comprehensive article.
However, what this approach overlooks is that each individual suggestion is a separate topic for an article.
Since Google likes to categorize content with precision, you’d have better luck creating content for each topic than a huge page with content on multiple topics, since a huge page isn’t particularly precise.
Google’s thematic focus continues.
On September 28, 2022, Google introduced more ways to create searches by topic.
As you start typing in the search box, we’ll provide keyword or subject options to help you formulate your question. Suppose you are looking for a travel destination in Mexico. We’ll help you specify your question so you can navigate to results more relevant to you https://t.co/oWeCGjhevS pic.twitter.com/ywoseDKOWa
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) September 28, 2022
Takeaway: Google’s Focus On Topics
Keywords are important because using the right keyword phrases correctly helps the content connect with users who use those keywords when searching for answers or information.
Advanced users tend to use more technical jargon, and less advanced users who have less knowledge use more general terms.
Given this understanding, it’s important to remember that Google understands the world in terms of topics, not keyword phrases.
When Google looks at a page, it understands the page at the “What is this page about?” level. What is the theme?”
Content can appear unnatural in my opinion when the content author focuses on keywords.
This is because a keyword-focused article tends to squirm as the author tries to stuff the article with the targeted keyword phrases, which are sometimes repetitive.
Keyword-focused content feels unnatural because the author struggles to create sentences that include the keywords.
A better way to create content, in my opinion, is to focus on topic (and utility!).
Relevance And Topic Category
For some types of searches, Google can rank websites that belong to a category of websites.
There’s a 2015 patent called Re-Ranking Resources Based on Categoryal Quality that describes a way to rank webpages based on whether the content’s category matches the category implied by the search query.
I believe this patent may be related to the August 2018 Google update known as the Medic Update.
It was named Medic Update because it markedly impacted the healthcare website category.
This patent represents a revolutionary change in the way Google determines what is relevant for certain searches and explains how it re-orders search results based on whether a website belongs to a topic category.
Google’s patent first describes two types of searches: informational and navigational.
An informational search is a search that can be answered by multiple types of websites. Google uses examples of football and space searches as types of searches that are informative.
It then notes that navigation queries occur when users search for a site name, e.g. e.g. YouTube.
Then there is the patent, a type of search query relevant to a category of information.
“Sometimes, however, users may have a particular interest in a category of information for which there are a number of well-served resources.”
For this reason, the patent is called “reclassification of resources based on categorical quality” and the abstract (the description of the patent) says it is about “reclassification of resources for categorical queries”.
The word “categorical” is used in the sense of something belonging to a category.
A simple description of this patent is that it ranks a search query and then applies a filter to the search results based on categories that a search query belongs to. This is what the word “re-ranking” means.
Re-ranking is a process of ranking websites for a search query and then selecting the best results by re-ranking the results based on additional criteria.
The following passage from the patent uses the words “quality condition” and “resources”.
In the context of this patent, the “quality condition” means the property of being part of a category.
A “resource” is just a web page.
It first describes two ranking scenarios. A regular ranking of websites (‘search ranking’) and another ranking called ‘quality ranking’ which ranks pages that belong to a ‘category’.
Remember that resources mean a web page and the quality condition is the quality of belonging to a category.
Here is the important passage from the patent:
“By re-ranking search results for an appropriate subset of resources that meet a quality condition, the search system provides a set of search results that enumerate resources that belong to a category according to a quality ranking that differs from a received search ranking Inquiry.”
Next, it explains the benefit of re-scoring search results based on “quality relative to category”.
“Because the search results are provided according to a ranking based in part on quality relative to the category, the search results are more likely to satisfy a user’s need for information when the user issues a categorical query on the category.”
Finally, I draw your attention to the section entitled “Detailed Description” which describes the patent in more detail.
First, it notes that when users don’t know much about a category, they tend not to use the jargon typical of that category, and instead use “broad” or more generic terms.
“…when a user knows very little about the category, the searches tend to be broader searches.
This is because a user may not have developed an understanding of the category and may not know which sites and resources are best suited to the category.”
Next, the patent says it takes that general query related to a category and matches it to sites that fit into that category.
For example, if someone searches for the topic of stomach pain, Google may assign that search query to the medical website category and rank the top search results to show only websites that belong to the medical website category.
“The systems and methods described below reorder resources for a broad categorical query according to their corresponding quality in the category to which the categorical query corresponds.
The reordered search results are more likely to show the sites and resources that best serve the category.”
To Be Relevant Means To Fit Into A Category
The point of this 2015 patent is that Google has likely changed what it means to be relevant.
For example, for medical searches, Google ranks websites using traditional ranking factors such as links and content.
But then Google reorders those search results by filtering out any websites that don’t fit into the right category for that search query.
This change was a radical upheaval for Google in 2018, as it meant alternative health sites that used to rank for medical searches stopped ranking for those searches.
These sites did not belong to the medical category, they belonged to the alternative health category.
Google said the 2018 update didn’t target health sites; it was just more noticeable in this vertical.
This means that this change applies to a variety of other categories as well.
This means that the meaning of relevance has changed for some queries. It is not enough to have specific keywords in the content for specific industries, the content must also fit into the correct category, which the patent describes as “quality relative to the category”.
Precise Search Results And Keywords
Google’s search ranking algorithms have become increasingly precise.
Precision in search results took a big boost after Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013.
What made the Hummingbird update search more accurate was that Google didn’t use all of the keywords in a search query to match what’s on a webpage.
Instead, Google ignored some words, particularly in natural language searches, and focused on what that query actually means, and then used that understanding to attribute the search query to a webpage.
Precision is something important to think about when considering how to SEO a website.
Google engineer (then) Matt Cutts explained:
“Hummingbird is a rewrite of the core search algorithm.
Just to better match users’ queries to documents, especially natural language queries, you know the queries get longer, contain more words, and sometimes those words are important and sometimes those words aren’t.”
Cutts is quoted again in the above article, which elaborates on the idea of precision:
“…the idea behind Hummingbird is if you do a query, it could be a natural language query, and you could include a word that you don’t necessarily need…
… Some of these words are not so important.
And in the past, Google only matched the words in the search query.
Now we’re starting to say which ones are actually more helpful and which ones are more important.”
This was the beginning of Google’s evolution to understand topics and understand what users really want.
Most importantly, Google’s focus on precision remains and is evident in its increasingly sophisticated ranking technologies such as Google Lens, which allows Google to rank web pages based on users searching with pictures from their phones.
For example, you can take a snapshot of a bug that is on the ground and use it to search.
Precision In User Intent
One change in search engines, dating to around 2012/2013, is Google’s increasing use of user intent in search results.
Google has not announced the introduction of user intent in search results.
And coverage of a Q&A between Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan in June 2011, in which Cutts discusses user intent, went over the heads of the people reporting it.
In the Q&A, Cutts talks about how Larry Page came to him and asked why the search results for [warm mangoes] weren’t so good.
Wondering what the user’s intent was in this search, Cutts discovered some facts about how warm mangoes ripen in a crate.
I attended the Q&A and was blown away by Google’s ambition to incorporate user intent into search results.
But none of the 2011 reports understood how the search for [warm mangoes] fitted into what Cutts was talking about, despite mentioning the phrase “user intent.”
So it was only reported as an amusing anecdote about warm mangoes.
Over 10 years later, everyone is talking about user intent.
But there is a new understanding of intent that goes beyond current understanding.
It’s the understanding that the user’s intent is more than just informational, transactional, etc.
These categories are actually very general, and there’s actually a more nuanced way to understand user intent by understanding the verbs used in search queries.
Dixon Jones of content optimization tools site Inlinks shares his revolutionary approach to understanding user intent:
“Verbs are fundamentally changing keyword research.
My best practice recommendation is to abandon the term “user intent” which is described as “informational/navigational/transactional/commercial or local intent”.
Putting user intent in just four vague descriptions isn’t entirely accurate.
A user’s intent when searching is much more nuanced than trying to do one of four things, it’s more specific.
User intent is much better described by analyzing verbs.
Most keyword research data focuses on words or phrases without understanding the user’s intent, which can lead to fundamental errors.
For example, a website about horses might do keyword research that finds search volumes around phrases like “mustang” or even “horsepower,” which are completely different topics and concepts that may or may not be relevant to a website’s topic Not.
Here’s the key point: words generated through keyword research aren’t specifically relevant to what someone is searching for without a verb in the query to indicate the search context.
The verbs “ride” and “mustang” together suggest a very different meaning and audience than the verbs “drive” and “mustang”.
Also, a phrase like “buy a Mustang” is probably not relevant to a horse site since the most popular intent is related to a car.
Without more information about the user, there’s no way to know for sure other than guessing based on the most popular intent.
Google may know more about the user based on their search history, but all you can do as an SEO is stay true to your site’s theme and purpose.
If you start writing content around a keyword phrase just because the search volume is high, the site may lose context instead of improving context.
Analyzing verbs in keyword research is one of the ideas we explored at InLinks.net.
Using NLP algorithms can help weed out irrelevant keyword suggestions when checking the entities and verbs in user queries for proximity to topics in your own content.”
Search Queries Have Evolved
It’s important to note that Google is constantly evolving what it means to search. Originally, searching meant typing words into a desktop or laptop computer.
Then it was a question of speaking these questions into a mobile phone.
Now search with images is added via Google Lens app.
For example, I wanted more information about a bottle of wine in the store. I took a picture of it and sent it to Google Lens which returned search results on this wine.
The remarkable thing about evolving search queries is that it is Google that is driving the development by creating new search possibilities for users, such as: B.Google Lens.
On September 28, 2022, Google announced nine new ways for users to conduct shopping searches.
“Today at our annual Search On event, we announced nine new ways we’re transforming the way you shop with Google, giving you a more immersive, informed and personalized shopping experience.
Behind this experience is the Shopping Graph, our AI-enhanced model, which now understands more than 35 billion product listings – up from 24 billion last year.”
And then there’s multi-search, a new type of search:
Multi-Search lets you snap a picture *and* ask a question to get the look you want or fix something. 🤯 We’re bringing this new way of searching to over 70 languages. And soon you’ll be able to add “near me” to your image to find what you’re looking for nearby. #SearchOn pic.twitter.com/RHxRQm42EU
— Google (@Google) September 28, 2022
Every change in how users can search and how Google presents information is an opportunity for businesses to claim a piece of the new search and discovery methods.
The ancient path of the 10 blue lines is long behind us, driven by technological changes.
It’s a new era for searching. are you up to date
Featured image: Masson/Shutterstock