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Can you imagine there being a change at Google that pre-dates Panda, (and subsequent incarnations) the +1 button, the attribution algo updates and few if any in the SEO world had noticed? I mean, it makes one helluva trivia question don’t it? Not as much fun as; What does Archie comics have to do with the early history of search. But it’s fascinating none-the-less.
Hey gang… long time no chat! Dave here… long lost SEJ writer and all around search geek. Can we talk or what?February 17th 2011; the day it all changed
First off, those of you familiar with my ranting and ramblings on this topic, are excused. It’s unlikely we’ll be covering much new for my faithful SOSGs (no that’s not talking dirty, it’s; Seriously Obsessed Search Geek m’kay?). It simply needs to be repeated for a larger audience.
Those still wondering what this mad rambling Gypsy is on about, walk with me…
Over the years we’ve seen many changes to Google that had some interesting if not far reaching implications for the fastidious search optimizer. Odd, I’ve never optimized a search engine. What’s up with that? Anyway, getting lost again. We’ve had the rise of personalization (and general flux), the timeliness of the QDF (query deserves freshness), finding our way with deeper localization and general madness in what we call universal search. The list is ever-growing it seems over the last few years.
Many times during these evolutions SEO types weren’t always grasping the value right out of the gate. At least though there were some that caught it and generally some form of awareness within short order.
I mean, this is the group of folks that traditionally go a little mental each time there is a Google toob bar PageRank update… (like this);
What happened some 4 months ago, while extremely noteworthy, has gone almost entirely un-noticed or at very least, below the radar of those covering the industry.The 2011 Google Social Search Update
For starters, is it unsurprising this went largely unnoticed? In retrospect, no. If we consider that back in 2008 we caught a glimpse of the Google social graph work and ultimately user profiling, which few seemed interested in, then no. If we consider the madness that ensues with shiny bobbles like the +1 button, then ok, yes… it does give one pause to say WTF?
And on a side note, some have suggested that SEOs like the thought of the +1 having ranking weight because…well… then they can manipulate it. Another story tho… we’ll get back to that.
Here’s the short version of what went down (Googly post here);
Ok, seems kinda unremarkable on the surface right? NOT. This is something fairly significant in the world of search.
Now, a few notes of interest;
Google accounts are on the rise (think Android)
It pulls from the social graph
It is another form of personalization
Does an end-around on problematic explicit feedback
Uses primary and secondary contacts
It re-ranks (search) listings
Catch that last one? It RE-RANKs the listings in the SERP. Anyone that’s been around long enough remembers how we drooled on the new short-cuts to the front page when various verticals gained prominence (aka universal SERPs). This is no different.
Look…. this is logged out;
And this is logged in;
WOW. We have a new way of ranking and SEOs aren’t talking about it? Did you know that there are a few thousand freaking articles on the +1 button (which doesn’t re-rank anything) but outside of ol Rand (who recently discovered it apparently) and yours truly (tho mine has been a little obsessive ROFL) there has been very little on this one?Consulting the crystal ball
This is all about looking into the future. We are seeing (over the last few years) an evolution to search that will most certainly be around for years to come. It started with real-time search and has grown out of control since then. Google has had a stated goal of deeper personalization for many years. One of the problems has always been the inherent issues with implicit/explicit feedback.
The social graph is a VERY effective way to gain deeper personalization beyond the traditional signals and matches well with the way the web is growing. In short; it makes sense.
Regardless of how much value you see in it now, this is an important development at Google. Did you get spanked by the Panda? Then maybe paying closer attention to the evolution of search could have prevented it. Don’t drop the ball again.Some food for thought
Ok, enough rambling. I simply wanted to abuse the hallowed halls of SEJ to try and get the word out one last time on this. A few thoughts before I go….
They have a good grasp on you social circle (see here); they likely weren’t doing that just for fun right?
Google has long been interested in social profiling, known at the time as ‘friend rank’. The road map has been in front of us the entire time, if you’re looking.
And what about the latest foray? Google Plus. It sure seems that what we’ve seen in the last few years is all moving in a concerted direction. I can see MANY ways that this social search update can play nicely with Google Plus. Consider the simple fact that Google Profiles are now wrapped up in Plus. I had originally lamented that they needed better management, which seems to be happening now.
Point being, this is a major vision of where search and social are likely headed. If you, like many, haven’t really been looking at this… it really is time that you did.
If you don’t…. you may find yourself left out of the loop in the real near future
You're reading Google Social Search; The Lost Update
The search engine war between Google and MSN is generating some nasty tactics reminiscent of the Microsoft vs. Netscape battle of the mid ’90’s. Those who remember that battle will recall the almost surgical methods used by Microsoft to all but destroy Netscape. Today, Netscape is a shell of its former self, kept in a dull corner of the Time Warner empire and denied the attention or funding it needs to reemerge as a viable entity in the browser market. Many will also remember the tactics used by Microsoft to destroy Netscape generated years of anti-trust litigation and almost led to the break-up of the world’s richest corporation and largest software maker. At the end of the day of course, Microsoft got off with a wrist slap and the knowledge that the US Government will not kill a goose that lays golden eggs (and whose products run much of the national infrastructure). Microsoft is obviously feeling free to resort to some its old tricks and the search engine wars are about to go mainstream, possibly becoming public entertainment. Remember the film, Pirates of Silicone Valley? This script promises to be even more interesting.
According to yesterday’s New York Times, Microsoft has officially turned its great eye on Google and is specifically targeting Google and its employees. Microsoft recruiters are said to be calling Google staff at home, telling them that MSN’s new search tool will bury Google and that they had better defect north to Redmond Washington as soon as possible before their jobs and soon to be stock options are worthless. Executives from both companies were seen watching each other like hawks at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland. Wherever a Google representative went, a MSN exec was steps behind, and vica versa. Meanwhile, back in the United States, Microsoft employees are examining Google patents looking for potential weaknesses to exploit. Microsoft is obviously playing for keeps and appears to be preparing to head off the inevitable legal battles that will stem from the introduction of Microsoft’s new operating system, Longhorn, currently in development and scheduled for release early next year.
Longhorn and Search
Longhorn is the code-name for the new operating system from Microsoft. When it is released early next year, Longhorn is expected to change the way we relate to searching for information by integrating the function of search directly into the operating system itself. According to the hype, systems running Longhorn will treat any information ever viewed by machine-specific users as a searchable document. For example, if you receive an email regarding Blue Widgets, research Blue Widgets and write a review of Blue Widget products, you would have three documents consisting of 1 email, 1 website, and 1 Word doc. Two of the three information sources are stored on your hard-drive and one is stored on the web. All three are likely to be found through Longhorn’s search function. By changing the parameters of search technology, Microsoft is laying heavy money on the safe bet that users will quickly become dependent on Longhorn’s search tool. This is basically the same tactic used against Netscape when Internet Explorer was bundled into Windows95(v2.0) in 1996.
“You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.” Sam Levenson (1911 – 1980)
Lessons for Google
Netscape was floored by the sudden switch of alliance in browser users and failed to adapt quickly enough. After being purchased at the height of the chúng tôi bubble by AOL, Netscape released it’s infamous (and doomed) version 6.0 which was full of bugs and did not even approach the versatility of Internet Explorer. The rest is pretty much history for Netscape and opportunity for Microsoft. IE now holds over 92% of the browser market with Netscape scraping less than 4%. The same phenomena may happen with Google, especially after the the recent Florida algorithm update in November and the recent Austin update seen in late January. While Google watchers continue to speculate on the what’s, where’s and whys of Google’s recent update, we all agree on at least one basic thing, Google is trying to create a better search tool in order to compete with MSN and Yahoo. Unfortunately for Google, the effect of the recent updates is highly reminiscent of Netscape v6.0, an obvious attempt to build a better mouse-trap that produced a product inferior to its predecessor.
“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience.” George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)
Google Gets Social with Google Co-op
Google announced their new social search oriented Google Co-op project at their Annual Press Day yesterday afternoon. Google Co-op marks Google’s entrance into the social or shared search market, where holders of Google Accounts can contribute their knowledge and expertise to improve Google’s search results and vertical search properties via personalized subscriptions.
Google says that These contributions serve as meta information that helps Google’s search algorithms connect users to the most relevant information for their specific query.
“Google Co-op and the other new services announced today combine the power of Google’s technology with the context, knowledge, and unique expertise of individuals,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice president, Product Management, Google Inc. “As a result, users can find the information they are looking for – no matter how specialized or specific – faster than ever.”
Suffering from a bit of exhaustion, I’ll lend the rest of this post to the Searchosphere’s impressions of Google Co-op:
Pandia: Google has already worked with partners to annotate web pages related to health and city guides and to offer dozens of subscribed links to specialized content such as restaurant and movie information. Later on a “broader online community” will begin building out new topic areas. Whether this means that regular users may contribute as experts is unclear.
Barry Schwartz : Google has announced four new products yesterday, one of those products is named Google Co-op. Google Co-op enables you to create what are called “subscribed links,” which basically allows you to create a Google SERP, define the title, description and the URL(s) to be displayed in the SERPs, for those who “subscribed” to your link. You can create an XML feed, submit your feed to Google Coop and then enable people to subscribe to that Coop. There are currently dozens of subscriptions available for you to be a part of at the Google Coop Directory.
Search Engine Watch’s Danny Sullivan : It’s a very cool idea. For example, say you are regularly searching for information about search engines and would like to know if Search Engine Watch specifically has any matching info along with searching the entire web for that topic. If we get our act together (and we’ll try soon), you could make us one of your subscribed links. Then the next time you search for something where we have content, you might see our matches right at the top of Google.
Where do you find providers? Google’s got a currently very small directory of them here to choose from. Preferred partners are already listed, partners that Google thinks people will be especially interested in, not those who have paid. No money is exchanging hands in either direction to be a subscribed link provider, Google says.
Google Assistant and voice search, is increasingly gaining prominence. Voice search will be in your car, in your home and even on your Apple device. Search queries will likely shift toward voice search. Google has linked to a research document that explains how the summarizing algorithm works. Not all content works with it. Will your content be ready for the voice search environment?
In December 2023 Google announced the release of their Human raters guidelines for evaluating the algorithm that produces Google Assistant search results. When a user searches using the Google Assistant, the voice search algorithm will sometimes summarize the result in a spoken manner.
That announcement linked to a research paper that describes the algorithm behind the voice search summaries. The paper is called, Sentence Compression by Deletion with LSTMs (PDF).
The announcement also contained information that may be useful to understanding a part of the algorithm that is used to summarize content. It’s called a “compression system” because it removes words and phrases in order to obtain a useful summary.
The research document includes information indicating what kinds of content cannot be successfully summarized. It also details exactly what kinds of words and phrases are removed. This kind of information may be useful for publishers who may wish to publish content that can be easily summarized and shown in voice search. Considering how important voice search is becoming, it may be useful to understand how this works.Four Elements of Voice Search Summaries
Summary of content that is appropriate when spoken.
The information meets the needs of the user/
Well formed sentences that make sense when spoken.
This is a reference to good pronunciation by the Google Assistant software.
This article is concerned with how Google summarizes a paragraph of content and is able to speak it and give a display and a link to the full article.How Voice Search Summarizes Content
According to the research paper, this algorithm doesn’t use explicit syntax features to understand what is being summarized. This is called, Part of Speech Tagging.
Instead, it “translates” the words into machine readable ones and zeros that represent what it calls “token deletion decisions.” This is pretty far out because it’s not using explicit syntactic information like parts of speech. Then the system removes certain words and phrases that it deems not neccesary in order to create a summary. This is called Compression.
Compression algorithms are very common. If you have ever received a file in a Zip format, then you have experience with a compression algorithm. In web search, search engines will remove common words like “the” in order to save space on their servers. When they save your content, the search engines are actually saving a compressed version of your content.
Google voice search summarizer works in a similar way. Only instead of removing words like “the,” Google’s summarizer is removing words and phrases to get to a summary.
“Our results clearly indicate that a compression model which is not given syntactic information explicitly in the form of features may still achieve competitive performance. The high readability and informativeness scores assigned by human raters support this claim.”
The researchers combined their method with grammatical features, identifying the parts of speech. One would think that this would improve the algorithm’s performance but it didn’t. The research paper notes this fact:
“Interestingly, there is no benefit in using the syntactic information… The simple LSTM model which only uses token embeddings to generate a sequence of deletion decisions significantly outperforms the baseline which was given not only embeddings but also syntactic and other features.”Example of Content Summary
In order to understand how this works, the research paper shows examples of various sentences and paragraphs that were successfully summarized. This is how your own content will be summarized.
and the man tortured by the state for being gay, is to receive a pardon nearly 60 years after his death.”What Parts of Speech are Removed?
Although the algorithm isn’t using parts of speech as an explicit feature, parts of speech are still being removed. That sounds a lot like Google is saying it’s not aliens but it’s aliens, doesn’t it? Here is what the document itself states:How Should You Write Your Content?
You probably shouldn’t write your content especially for voice search. But understanding the kinds of content that couldn’t be summarized may help avoid not having your content summarized and ranked. Furthermore, it may be possible that the algorithms have progressed and no longer stumble as much.Content with Quotes is Difficult to Summarize
Here is what the document identified as the kind of content it could not summarize:
“Sentences which pose difficulty to the model are the ones with quotes, intervening commas, or other uncommon punctuation patterns.”
Here is an example of content with quotes the algorithm couldn’t summarize:
The original sentence, in my opinion, could be written better. The research paper didn’t state if rewriting the sentence into two more sentences would help, so we can only guess. Although the paper identified the reason for failure as quotes, I can’t help wondering if rewriting that sentence would have been helpful.
I ran the above sentence through a grammar tool and the tool stated that the sentence was hard to read. There’s not enough data in order to give it a grade level so I simply repeated it. The tool scored it as college level, meaning that a reader needed a college level reading skills to understand it. The reason for that is because the sentence is so long. It could be divided into at least two sentences and perhaps the summarizer might be able to give it a proper summary. I don’t know for certain, but it may be helpful to create content that is easily read by the widest amount of people.Content With Too Many Commas is Difficult to Summarize
Content with commas were identified as hard to summarize. This may mean that it’s important to write direct and easily read content. If you can read it aloud and it makes sense, you’re probably on the right track.
If you look at the example they give, it seems as if the problem isn’t the comma itself, but the amount of commas. See for yourself.
the actress announced on her website GOOP.
Gwyneth Paltrow are to separate.What Causes Voice Search Summary to Fail?
Overall, the research indicated four kinds of features that made content not easily summarized:
Nothing to Remove
Important Context (context of events are difficult to retain)
That last one about the context of events is a little hard to understand. Fortunately they provide an example.
trooper from the same force prevented two women commuters from ending their lives, an official said Monday.
Another woman trooper prevented two women commuters
Here is a list of the kinds of words and phrases commonly removed to achieve a voice search summary.
These are words or phrases that have a direct relationship to each other. Wikipedia gives the following example:
Dean Martin, a very popular singer, will be performing at the Sands Hotel.
In the above example, the phrase “a very popular singer” is the appositive phrase. It can be removed and the sentence will still make sense.
These are phrases related to time. These phrases communicate a point in time, a duration or how often. A point in time means anything that measures time, like dates or the hour.
These are phrases that set up a statement, almost like an introduction. Purdue University provides this example of an introductory clause: “If they want to win, athletes must exercise every day.”How to Optimize Content for Voice Search Summaries
There is no magic method for writing content for Google Assistant. Avoiding pitfalls like sentences that are too long or difficult to read may be useful. If you are unsure about your writing, perhaps a writing and grammar tool may be useful if you don’t have a human editor to proof read your content. The Voice Assistant announcement explicitly mentions factors such grammar, so it’s probably a good idea to have that correct from the beginning. Although we don’t know for certain, it may be helpful if your content sounds natural when read aloud.
Images by Shutterstock, modified by Author
Editor’s note: For the latest information on the Google Panda algorithm, please see: A Complete Guide to the Google Panda Update.
Google was under a lot of pressure to make an update that cast the “content mills” from its index.
With the heavy pressure of the tech media community, spunky upstarts like Blekko calling the company out, and an acknowledgment from Google of an increase in spam on its index, the search engine giant had to act both quickly and effectively.
Their most recent major algorithm change, known in the tech community as the “farmer update,” was released with bullet speed and did a great job at getting rid of a lot of spam – but at what cost?
In any war, some inncoents will be hurt, and that seems to include the war on spam.
When the update went live, thousands of smaller sites lost some ranking, with some losing literally all SERP visibility. This was primarily seen in the blogging and e-commerce community, but the reach could be felt far and wide.
Google Fellow Amit Singhal stated that the company is aware of some fallout, and that “no algorithm is 100% accurate.”
That isn’t an excuse or escape hatch, though. Rather, it’s Singhal’s way of saying that the company knows there’s more to work on, and that they are already plugging away, aiming on bringing the algorithm “close to 100%.”
He has stated that engineers are already at work on those adjustments, building an extra “layer” on the foundation of the farmer algorithm.
While some rumors have stated that these alterations have already been made, Google has confirmed that any changes already present are minor (part of the “more than one alteration per day” that Google’s algorithm typically sees); the layer they are referring to is yet to come. In other words: “Innocents” hurt by this update will be thrown a floater in the near future!
While watching yourself and loved ones for symptoms of COVID-19, you might not want to forget about your gut. Gastrointestinal issues can be both an early symptom of COVID-19 and one that remains long after others have gone, researchers find. One team from Massachusetts General Hospital considered whether Google searches for GI issues might be a way to spot COVID-19 hotspots early.
“GI symptoms are only one part of COVID-19,” says Kyle Staller, a coauthor of the paper, which was published in July in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. But they’re notable, he says—certainly, people notice if they have diarrhea or vomiting. He and his colleagues think public health specialists might be able to use a technique that was successfully employed in 2009′s H1N1 pandemic: looking at Google Trends data, which is widely available and anonymized, to see where searches for GI symptoms spike.
The team looked at Google Trends data for searches on a range of symptoms that dated from January 20 to April 20 of 2023. They found that searches for ageusia (loss of taste), loss of appetite, and diarrhea correlated with COVID-19 case numbers in states with high early infection rates like New York and New Jersey, with an approximate delay of four weeks. The signal was less clear for other symptoms.
“I think it’s important as a caveat to say that Google is not good, true, boots-on-the-ground epidemiology,” says Staller. But he and his colleagues maintain that Google Trends search data might be useful in looking for signs of a second COVID-19 wave.
Early research into COVID-19, a bulk of which came from Chinese hospitals, suggested that gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting were also common symptoms. The reason—scientists believe—is that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, targets ACE2 receptors which are found on the surface of many cells including those in the lungs, arteries, and throughout the digestive tract.
But in the few months since Staller’s paper was published, says University of Pennsylvania gastroenterologist Shazia Siddique, “The one thing that has changed is that perhaps GI symptoms are not as common as we previously thought.”
Siddique, who was not involved with the current research, recently authored a meta-analysis of 118 papers on COVID-19 for the American Gastroenterological Society that found fewer than 10 percent of patients in the combined studies experienced diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, or abdominal pain. In the 10 percent of patients who did experience GI distress, those symptoms were joined in 1 to 5 days by other COVID-19 symptoms.
Siddique also questioned the search terms that Staller and his colleagues associated with gastrointestinal symptoms. “Technically, loss of appetite is kind of more of a systemic response,” she noted.
The core idea of the paper—using Google Trends data to help detect hotspots—is “great,” says Siddique. “For most of us as physicians, we like to think that our patients tell us as soon as they’re feeling ill, and that we have a pulse on exactly the moment they start to develop symptoms, but I think we all know the reality that patients do turn to WebMD and Google before coming into our offices.”
While most COVID-19 patients don’t experience gastrointestinal systems, a percentage do. If you’re experiencing symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, or nausea and vomiting, and you’re concerned that you may have been exposed to COVID-19, check yourself for other symptoms and get tested. In the meantime, make sure to mask up and, if you’re able, consider isolating until you’ve got more information.
“Sometimes the only early presentation is the GI symptoms and then the respiratory symptoms come later,” notes Siddique’s coauthor Shahnaz Sultan, a University of Minnesota gastroenterologist. Sultan notes that she and her colleagues found that people who had GI symptoms also took more time to seek care. Both of these facts offer tantalizing glimpses at the real picture of the relationship between COVID-19, GI symptoms, and treatment, but there’s certainly much more to uncover.
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