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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:

Commas

Quotes

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

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Mobile First Index? Plan For Voice Search

Voice search is not just on the horizon. It is here now. Yet our industry is stuck in yesterday’s paradigm of mobile optimization and web pages, even as Google moves into consumer’s homes and automobiles with devices that answer spoken questions with spoken answers.

This is the direction Google and Microsoft are heading. If you examine search technology within this context, then you’ll see how it makes sense for Google to have an algorithm that can provide it’s own Spoken Answers to Spoken Questions.

It’s somewhat too late to worry about Google’s Mobile First index. What we should be doing now is understanding Voice Search and optimizing for that. The Spoken Search Paradigm is not on the horizon anymore. It’s here right now.

Recent announcements from Google about Google Assistant and Google Home indicate Google’s search experience is transitioning from a mobile search experience to a Voice First experience.

While the index remains mobile first, the experience itself, the way search is displayed and communicated, is moving toward accommodating a Google Voice/Google Home/Google Assistant first experience. Rather than thinking of search as a mobile first experience, it may be useful to think of search within the context of voice search.

SEO in Transition

I put a sofa in the image to represent the home. That’s where search is heading today. It’s no longer on the computer. Search is on the sofa and increasingly in your automobile.

I put the caveman outside of the home, because as an icon of SEO practices tied to a desktop version of search, he represents what can happen if we continue thinking about search and SEO within the old paradigm of the ten blue lines and the desktop experience.

Having one foot firmly in a mobile search paradigm and a toe in the voice search paradigm, it is currently difficult to understand how web publishers and SEO will fit within this next evolution of Internet marketing.

The first step is to be conscious that this is happening and to put research papers we read and announcements we read within the context of where not just Google is headed, but Bing, Zillow, Baidu, Facebook and a host of other technology companies. It’s a transition from thinking in terms of Search to thinking in terms of being an Assistant.

Where do we, as Internet marketers and publishers fit into that? That’s what I’m interested in exploring. I don’t think getting upset or hoping things will go back to the ten blue lines will help.

Evidence that Google is Transitioning to Voice/AI

If your SEO strategy is predicated on meeting the demands of a mobile first experience, you may want to consider the evidence that Google is moving toward a Google Voice experience then consider how that changes your strategy. What follows is evidence that Google has shifted focus toward voice search powered by AI.

Here are four signs indicating Google’s shift away from mobile and toward a voice first strategy:

Artificial Intelligence encompasses a semantic understanding of language. This is highly important for a world in which voice search is first. According to Google’s rebranded AI’s web page:

Google’s official announcement of this change was titled, “Send Your Recipes to the Google Assistant.” That is explicit acknowledgement of how a change in structured data was for accommodating voice search, not mobile.While it can be argued that voice search is on mobile, the bigger picture is that voice search is bigger than mobile.

Google released an AI Technology demonstration called Talk to Books. While currently limited in scope it aims to show how far AI is coming along. More importantly, this was introduced by legendary futurist Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering.

Google’s (Between the Lines) Announcement

Google’s recipe structured data update was explicitly for the benefit of the “voice guided search” experience. Here is what Google’s official announcement stated:

“With more people using Google Home every day, we’re publishing new guidelines so your recipes can support this voice guided experience. You may receive traffic from more sources, since users can now discover your recipes through the Google Assistant on Google Home.”

I’m not saying that Google is moving toward a voice first strategy now. There has been no announcement. However, it’s clear that Google is moving quickly to accommodate voice search.

What I, Roger Montti, am asking is:

Should publishers wait for an announcement from Google? Or should publishers understand the ground is shifting and begin thinking ahead instead of playing catch-up later?

Google Home & Google Assistant

Mobile computing has attained ubiquity in our lives. Ubiquity means that something is everywhere, like air. Google is apparently anticipating that Google Home will also attain the same level of “everywhere-ness” that mobile phones currently enjoy.

That means Google search is transitioning from something users type and read to something they speak and listen to. This has huge implications for SEO.

As evidenced by the recipe chúng tôi Structured Data update, structured data plays a role in the Google Home/Voice Assistant search experience. Keeping up with structured data may be important. Google’s John Mueller recently acknowledged that structured data plays a role in helping Google understand what a web page is about.

There are some kinds of content that is incompatible with voice search. Google’s John Mueller highlighted that information that is formatted in tables or as a list of links will not be included in voice search results.

It turned out that companies that list comparisons of their pricing plans in tables miss out having their sites rank in featured snippets when potential customers Google “Name of Company Pricing.” This points out how important it is to structure your web page so that it is voice search friendly.

AI Powered Voice Search is Web 3.0

Is Google transitioning beyond Mobile Friendly to Voice Search Friendly Search? I believe there is ample evidence to believe so. It may be time to think about thinking of search marketing and SEO in terms of voice search instead of exclusively thinking in terms of mobile/desktop search. Mobile search, in my opinion, was just a temporary stop on the way to voice search. Voice searched powered by AI is the next destination and we’re pulling into that station right now.

Images by Shutterstock, Modified by Author

Google Social Search; The Lost Update

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

Google Adds New Home And Privacy Features To Voice Assistant

At this year’s CES, voice assistants were big business. Amazon is seemingly adding Alexa to anything it can, from toilets to cars. Not to be outdone, Google was also keen to crow about its own voice assistant, even revealing Google Assistant usage stats for the first time ever.

According to Google, 500 million of us are talking to its voice assistant every month. It’s no surprise, then, that Google is continuing to roll out new features.

The latest feature upgrades focus on home life and that all important word, privacy. Yes, in an attempt to make us feel more comfortable sharing our thoughts with an AI, Google is giving us more tools to control how our data is used.

There are also new features that will extend Google Assistant compatibility with third-party products, as well as schedule devices to start at certain times.

New Google Assistant Privacy Features

Perhaps the most important addition for many, it’s worth looking at what Google has done to appease fears of it listening in to our everyday conversations. You’d be right to be worried too, with 2023 seeing a lot of headlines about the handling of voice recording data. Companies believe the key to our trust is in giving us more control.

“How do I keep my data private?”

Google Assistant will already give you the answer to questions such as “How do I keep my data private?” – it lists off the ways in which you can be assured you aren’t being snooped on, and the precautions that you may want to take. Now it’s, adding some further new features.

“Google, are you saving my audio data?”

The first extends the information sharing aspect by letting users ask “Google, are you saving my audio data?”, which will prompt the device to reveal exactly how it’s using the data. It will also prompt a settings menu where you can make changes to what is and isn’t captured.

“Hey Google, that wasn’t meant for you.”

Another new function is the ability to say to a device “Hey Google, that wasn’t meant for you.” Presumably, this is designed for those awkward moments when you’re mid-argument with your spouse about why the Cheerios haven’t been put away, and Google merrily wakes up wanting to join in. It’s a neat option, especially for those nervous about having their offline conversations captured.

“Google, delete everything I said to you this week”

It’s also worth remembering that you can say “Google, delete everything I said to you this week.” This will erase the AI assistant’s memory banks in one swoop.

Updated Family Features

A couple of new family friendly features have also been added to Google’s voice assistant. We’d struggle to call them essential, but we can see their appeal.

The first is a virtual sticky note, designed to be used with devices that have displays. If you’re the sort of family that struggles to find a pen in a hurry, then this could be a welcome feature. As the name suggests, users can leave a virtual note on the homescreen on a Google Assistant enabled device for all to see. They don’t even need to be logged in, which surely could lead to some abuse when your friends visit and get rowdy. All you need to do is use the voice command “Hey Google, leave a note that says…”

The other feature is the ability to share your essential contacts on a family device with a speed dial function. This allows any user to quickly access important numbers, even if they don’t have them in their own address book.

Google’s Home Services

Google has announced that its assistant will soon work with more third-party devices than ever. It’s quite a list, and far too many to go into here, but includes Philips Hue, August Smart Locks, Telus Wi Fi hubs, and MerossSmart’s garage door opener.

If juggling all these devices seems like hard work, then good news. Soon, Google will intelligently recognising when you set up a smart device with the company’s own app, and prompt you to link it to the Google Home app. Then it’s a case of just linking the new device in the app, without having to enter all the details again.

Another new feature is the ability to schedule devices for certain times through Google assistant, with Scheduled Actions. Have a connected AC unit that you want to kick in five minutes before you get home? Not a problem. This granular approach to smart devices feels like an innovative way to juggle smart home tech, especially as it’s all do-able from within Google’s native Home app, rather than having to access each dedicated app individually.

Msn + Google = Netscape : The Search Engine Wars

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 Search Data Can Help Pinpoint Covid

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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