How to stay on the right side of Google Search updates

Google Search
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Google Search’s stated mission is to help people find the information they need, when they need it. In the past, however, the search giant has been less than clear on how it does that. Faced with an increasing regulatory threat, the company is now trying to be more transparent about how Google Search works.

Why it matters

Keeping up with the changes that Google makes to its Search infrastructure is crucial for digital publishers that want organic traffic. But keeping up isn’t always easy; Google made 4,500 ‘improvements’ to its search in 2020, compared with 3,200 in 2019 and less than 400 in 2009.

  • As Google increases the speed at which it updates its Search function, it is also offering updated and improved information resources for content creators to keep up with ongoing changes. In the ‘fully-redesigned’ How Search Works website, its explains the ‘ins and outs of Search – how we approach the big, philosophical questions, along with the nitty-gritty details about how it all works.’
  • Google’s How Search Works website was originally launched in 2016. This month the company announced it has been updated with fresh information, improved navigation and links to additional resources that will answer common questions and help publishers better understand how the system works.
  • Google says it will be making information on how Google Search works ‘open and accessible’. It aims to provide a clearer picture of the ever-changing infrastructure that underpins its search functionality, providing detail on how its ranking systems use factors including meaning, relevance, quality, usability and context to present users with relevant, useful results.
Using the How Search Works website

The website offers a broad overview of how Google views the world of search, plus three dedicated sections detailing Google’s approach to search, the mechanics of how Search works and a breakdown of search features.

The Approach section looks at delivery of relevant and reliable information. Google says 15% of searches are new so it explains the automated systems that sift through unique query terms, page content and source expertise. It also offers insight into how Google maximises access to information and removes information only where requested or required by law.

This section also discusses how information is presented to support a range of content types. It deals with privacy protection, commercial terms and support for creators through search optimisation with links to free tools and resources to promote inclusion in search listings.

The How Search Works section offers insight into the systems Google uses to present the most helpful information in response to search queries. Subsections include:

  • Information organisation including crawling and indexing. 
  • Ranking results including meaning, relevance, quality, usability and context
  • Testing including adjustments, live traffic experiments, search quality testing and side-by-side experiments.
  • Spam detection including guidelines

The Features section  discusses how Google points users at the best results formats for the query they have run. It looks at the Knowledge Graph of people, places and things, directions and traffic for route planning, weather and Featured Snippets.

The update

The How Search Works update is seen as a response to growing government pressure to be more transparent about its core business functions. The US government filed its fourth antitrust lawsuit against Google in July with regulators complaining that Google’s search business is a ‘black-box’ monopoly, where only Google knows how results are displayed.

There has been some comment that there isn’t as much new information on the refreshed site as Google has suggested. But the interface has improved greatly and it is much easier to access information. If you are looking for a solid place to learn about Google’s Search updates, How Search Works is a very good starting point.

If you want to get more specific SEO insights, Google also has its Search Central platform, providing in-depth, expert advice from experienced webmasters, along with videos and advice on web development best practices.

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