Google Ranking Algorithms

Although Google has denied that ranking of search results is influenced by a user’s social connections, Google is certainly extremely interested in the methods and the possibilities.

Exploring a newly-granted Google patent around social signals, Dave Davies, Search Engine Land (Oct 7)

After considerable analysis of the patent, Davies concludes, “In short, according to this patent, what people you’re connected to recommend, like and engage with could be used to impact your rankings.” If Google is doing, the source of information isn’t clear – yet.

Also of great interest:

Another aspect of Google search that we need to be constantly aware of is that RankBrain now applies to all queries. Essentially, this means that artificial intelligence (AI) is interpreting all queries to some degree. While at this time the AI implementation revolves more around using machine learning to understand the nature of the query (and likely type of content and format being sought), its rollout to all queries and the promotion of John Giannandrea to Head of Search at Google marks the push into AI control over larger portions of the Google algorithm.

Longer Titles in SERP

Google is showing slightly longer titles in its search results partly because the left column in desktop results is narrower. Search Laboratory ran several tests to assess extent of change.


Title matters a great deal to SEO and to searchers – “Longer titles and descriptions also allow more room for targeting the long-tail keywords that customers search for when they are closer to taking action, making them all the more valuable to marketers.”

Socratic Search

Socrates Search directs us to think as Socrates would in order to explore and examine – not just accept the first result. Ted Hunt, a graduate of the Royal College of Art in the UK, has developed a search engine that is based on Google Custom Search and assists the user in applying the Socratic method. These are: Seek Clarity, Challenge Assumptions, View Evidence, Explore Alternatives or Consider Implications.

Socrates Search Engine

Results do differ – or at least are reordered according to the button clicked. The custom search might be selecting  particular sources, or perhaps adding search terms. Would be nice to be able to see under the hood. For now – an interesting approach – and a reminder that we would do well to apply the Socractic method.

See Ted Hunt’s Socratic Search invites Google users to question their assumptions in dezeen (June 24)

RankBrain update

Gary Illyes from Google talked with Danny Sullivan at the SMX conference about Google’s search operation, ranking methods, points of interest to SEO masters. Barry Schwartz summarized the points in . Key takeaways from the Google AMA: RankBrain, Panda, Penguin, bots & more.

RankBrain is of greatest interest. It is Google’s application of machine learning to improve its understanding of the query and ranking of results. Danny Sullivan explains in
Google uses RankBrain for every search, impacts rankings of “lots” of them (June 23)

… what we’ve understood about RankBrain: it seems largely used as a query refinement tool. Google seems to be using it now for every search to better understand what that search is about. After that, another aspect of RankBrain might influence what results actually appear and in what order, but not always.

Mistrusting the algorithms

Thoughtful look by Nancy K Herther at Gaming the (Google Search) System (Newsbreaks, June 21). Google denied manipulating search results to suppress hostile content about Hilary Clinton. There is no way of knowing. But scrubbing results and removing content happens frequently. It makes us mistrust the system.

A recent BBC report notes that “with more than 90% of the market in much of the world, Google’s dominance in the vital and lucrative business of searching the internet is clear. But does its mysterious and ever-changing search algorithm have too much power? Does this one force exert excessive influence over the information we all access, the success or failure of businesses, the reputation of individuals and even which political ideas triumph?” Maybe Google should begin to embrace transparency in the search.

Google Patents for Display

Search today is less about keywords and more about entities as is made clear (again) in this examination by Barbara Starr of Google patents.
Structured Data & The SERPs: What Google’s Patents Tell Us About Ranking In Universal Search (Search Engine Land, May 29)

Google packs into search results knowledge panels, answers, images. Much of this derives from use of structured data and identification of entities involved. One patent quoted notes that, “In some implementations, search results are retrieved from a data structure. In some implementations, the data structure also contains data regarding relationships between topics, links, contextual information, and other information related to the search results that the system may use to determine the ranking metrics.”

Starr describes with examples four entity-specific metrics. “The patent provides strong evidence that semantic web technology is being used as background context for the definitions of the metrics and the environment in which they are framed.”

Lastly, we learn that thare are “different algorithms for different screen areas”; ie., different displays for different devices.

Search “assistants”

Google had much to say about the new “Google assistant” at its annual developers’ conference, Google I/O. It has AI capability and will be built into apps. Danny SUllivan explained in Meet Google assistant: A new search platform, rather than a gadget or an app (May 18)

“So what is Google assistant, in the end? Google assistant combines two things: Google’s expertise in extracting information from content across the web and from partners plus its machine learning smarts to understand what people are asking.”

Broadly, these are called digital assistants. Others are Siri from Apple, Cortana – Microsoft, Echo in ALexa – Amazon. Paul Hunter at State of Digital asked Will Digital Assistants Replace Search? No – because the assistants are most useful for directions, shopping – the kinds of questions spoken to a smartphone – not deeper research into a topic or need. Hunter closes with “Voice search and digital assistants are definitely going to become a big factor in digital, but will it be the end of search? I doubt it.”

Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, sees Google’s next stage to be in the realms of artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Google’s CEO sums up his AI vision: “Hi. How can I help?” CNet (May 17)

Products that reflect this and were shown at the I/O conference:

… a messaging app (which suggests comparisons to Facebook Messenger), a voice-activated speaker and smart home control hub (sort of like Amazon’s Echo), a video chat app (think Apple’s Facetime) and a new hardware and software system for VR built around a smartphone (shades of Samsung Gear VR).

The assistant will be “baked in” to new products. Google Home is a smart home speaker – talk to it anytime and use it to manage the house. Allo is a messaging app that will compete with Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and Kik.

New Search Experiences

Smartphones have changed the search experience. Adam Dorfman in Search Engine Land shows that As search changes, Google changes.

“But, seemingly overnight, everything changed. Now, searching means utilizing a wide range of interfaces, including GPS devices, wearables, smart objects such as Amazon Echo and operating systems such as iOS and Android. Oh, and we’re not just lounging on our sofas at home when we search. We’re searching on the go.”

While mobile is where the action is today, the author identifies some areas where still excels.

Google’s Quality Ratings

Google has quality raters – actual people who look at search results and rate quality. Their guidebook has been updated to give more emphasis, says Jennifer Slegg, to emphsize local, and expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness. Slegg provides a detailed account of the 146 pages in Updated Google Quality Rater Guidelines: No More Supplementary Content, Emphasis on E-A-T, The SEM Post (April 4)