Google is not only changing how it presents information to users and updating algorithms, but the way users search is also changing.
SEO best practices change every year, so it’s best to keep up with 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 published for writing product reviews recommend specific on-page factors that must exist in order for the page to be ranked for product review-related search queries.
This is a remarkable change in the way sites are ranked. Google has redefined what it means for a web page to be relevant for a search query.
The definition of relevance meant that a web page had to relate to what the user was looking for, in this case, product reviews.
Product reviews were commonly seen as expressing an opinion about a product, comparing the product’s features to the cost, and expressing an opinion on whether something is worth buying or not.
But now, it is not enough for a product review webpage. It must also be valid and useful. That’s a big change in the way sites are ranked.
Here are two Google product review ranking factors introduced in December 2021:
“…we are introducing two new best practices for product reviews, to take effect in a future update.
Google calls them “best practices” but also says they will “take effect,” suggesting that something in the algorithm is looking for these two qualities.
The first signal relates to the authenticity of the product review.
The second signal is specific to websites that do not sell the products reviewed, and is about being helpful to website visitors by giving them multiple outlets to purchase a product.
Authenticity and usability as a sign of relevance is a huge shift for SEO.
Search Is Increasingly About Context
Context is the setting in which something is said or done, which gives meaning to those actions or statements.
The context of a search can influence the search results.
What is happening is that Google is redefining what it means to be relevant by understanding the context of the user.
When a user searches for [pizza], Google does not show recipes for pizza; it shows local pizza restaurants.
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 influences search results is current events, which can change the meaning of a search phrase. This is part of what is known as the Fresni algorithm.
The Freshness algorithm takes into account time-based factors that can change the meaning of a search phrase, and this influences which websites are shown.
Therefore, it is the contexts of geography and time that influence what it means to be relevant to a search query.
Search Is Increasingly About Topics
As noted in the discussion of the 2013 Hummingbird update, Google is increasingly moving away from keywords and more towards understanding the multiple meanings inherent in search queries.
Google is also redefining relevance through the concept of topics.
When someone searches with the keyword [mustang], the most likely meaning is the automobile, right?
Screenshot of a search for [mustang], Google, October 2022
In the image above, Google lists multiple topics related to the automobile Ford Mustang.
Clicking on any of the topics listed above leads to a different search result.
Some of the top sites appear on different topics because they are relevant to multiple topics. Something to think about, right?
Screenshot of a search for [mustang], Google, October 2022
Back in 2018, Google’s Danny Sullivan tweeted about a way to change the search results by topic, the topic buttons we just reviewed above.
“A new dynamic way to change results quickly is coming, like how you can change quickly about dog breeds.
This is powered by the Subject Layer, a way of leveraging how the Knowledge Graph knows about people, places and things into subjects.”
Screenshot from Danny Sullivan’s Twitter, October 2022
Google published a blog post about these changes and discussed them in the section called Dynamic Organization of Search Results.
In the article, Google explained that it organizes some searches by topics and subtopics.
“Every search journey is different, and especially if you’re not familiar with the subject, it’s not always clear what your next search should be to help you learn more.
So we’re introducing a new way to dynamically organize search results that helps you more easily decide what information to explore 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, such as CBD.
The queries listed in the PAA are topics.
People like to think of them as keyword phrases, but they are more than keywords. They are topics for a web page of content.
Screenshot from Google search, October 2022
Clicking on the first topic, “Does CBD do anything?” reveals an article on the subject of whether CBD products work.
Screenshot from Google search, October 2022
Some people and tools like to use each People Also Ask suggestion box as keywords to use in one comprehensive article.
But what is missed in that approach is that each individual suggestion is an individual topic for one article.
Because Google likes to rank precise content, you would prefer to create content for each topic rather than a huge page of content on multiple topics as a huge page is not particularly precise.
Google’s focus on topics continues.
On September 28, 2022, Google introduced more ways to structure search queries by topic.
As you start typing in the search box, we’ll provide keyword or topic options to help you formulate your question. Say you’re looking for a destination in Mexico. We’ll help you identify your question, so you can navigate to results more relevant to you https://t.co/oWeCGjhevS pic.twitter.com/ywoseDKOWa
— Google Search Liaison (@searchliaison) September 28, 2022
Takeaway: Google’s Focus On Topics
Keywords are important because the correct use of the correct keyword phrases will help the content connect with users who use those keywords when searching for answers or information.
Advanced users tend to use more jargon, and less advanced users with less knowledge will use more general terms.
Given that understanding, it’s important to remember that Google understands the world in terms of topics and not keyword phrases.
When Google looks at a page, it understands the page at the level of, “What does this page contain? What’s the subject?”
Content can appear unnatural when the content writer focuses on keywords, in my opinion.
This happens because an article focused on a keyword tends to meander as the writer tries to stuff the article with the targeted keyword phrases, sometimes repeating.
Keyword-focused content feels unnatural because the writer struggles to create sentences that contain the keywords.
A better way to create content, in my opinion, is to focus on topics (as well as usability!).
Relevance And Topic Category
For some types of search queries, Google may rank sites that belong to a category of websites.
There is a 2015 patent called Categorical Quality Based Re-Rank Resources that describes a way to rank web pages based on whether the category of the content matches the category suggested by the search query.
I believe this patent may be related to Google’s August 2018 update known as the Medic Update.
It’s called the Medic Update because it clearly affects the Health website category.
This patent represents a revolutionary change in the way Google determines what is relevant for certain queries and discusses how it will re-rank the search results according to whether a website belongs to a topic category .
Google’s patent first describes two types of search: information and navigation.
An information search is one that can be answered by many types of websites. Google uses examples of queries about football and space travel as the types of searches that provide information.
It then states that navigational queries are when users search using the name of a website, such as YouTube.
Then it gets to the point of the patent, which is a type of search query that applies to a category of information.
“Sometimes, however, users may be particularly interested in a category of information for which there are a number of well-served resources.”
That’s why the patent is called “Resource rescaling based on deterministic quality” and in the abstract (description of the patent) it states, it’s about “resource rescaling for deterministic queries .”
The word “categorical” is used in the sense of something belonging to a category.
A simple description of this patent is that it will rank a search query and then apply a filter to the search results based on categories that search query belongs to. That’s what the word “second-rate” means.
Reranking is the process of ranking websites for a search query and then selecting the best results by reranking the results based on additional criteria.
The following portion of the patent uses the words “state of quality” and “resources.”
In the context of this patent, the “quality state” means the quality of being part of a category.
A “resource” is just a web page.
First it describes two scaling scenarios. A regular ranking of websites (“search ranking”) and another ranking called a “quality ranking” which lists pages belonging to a “category.”
Remember, resources means a web page, and the quality condition is the quality of belonging to a category.
Here is the important part of the patent:
“By reranking search results for a proper subset of resources that meet a quality condition, the search system provides a set of search results that list resources belonging to a category according to a quality ranking that” n different from search position received. inquiry.”
Next, he explains the benefit of reranking search results based on the “quality relative to the category.”
“Because the search results are provided by ranking based, in part, on quality in relation to the category, the search results are more likely to satisfy a user’s information need when the users issue a query which is categorical for the category .”
Finally, I draw attention to the section called, Detailed Description, where the patent goes into more detail.
First, he notes that when users do not know much about a category, they will tend not to use the jargon typical of that category and instead use “broader” or more general expressions.
“…when a user knows very little about the category, the queries are more likely to be broader queries.
This is because a user may not have developed an understanding of the category, and may not be aware of the websites and resources that best serve the category.”
Next, the patent says it will take that general category-related query and match it with websites that fit that category.
For example, if someone searches on the topic of stomach pain, Google may match that query to the category of medical websites and re-rank the top search results to show websites that n belong to the medical category of websites only.
“The systems and methods described below re-rank resources for a broad categorical query according to their corresponding quality in the category to which the categorical query corresponds.
The re-ranked search result set is 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 that 2015 patent is that Google is likely to change what it means to be relevant.
For example, for medical queries, Google ranks websites with traditional ranking factors such as links and content.
But then Google re-ranks those search results by filtering out all the sites that don’t fit into the correct category for that search query.
This change was a radical departure for Google in 2018 because it meant that alternative health websites that used to rank for medical queries stopped listing those queries.
Those sites were not part of the medical category, they were part of the alternative health category.
Google said the 2018 update did not target health sites; it was more prominent in that vertical.
That means this change applies to a wide range of other categories as well.
This means that the meaning of relevance for some queries has changed. It is not enough to have certain keywords in the content for certain verticals, the content must also fit into the right category, described by the patent as the “quality in relation to the category.”
Precise Search Results And Keywords
Google’s search ranking algorithms have become increasingly precise.
Accuracy in search results is something that really took off after Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013.
What made the search more precise after the Hummingbird update was that Google did not use all the keywords in a search query to match what is on a web page.
Instead, what was happening is that Google was ignoring certain words, especially in natural language searches, and focusing on what that query actually meant and then using the understanding that to match the search query with a web page.
Accuracy is something important to consider when considering how to SEO a web page.
Google engineer (at the time) Matt Cutts explained:
“Hummingbird rewrites the core search algorithm.
To do a better job of matching user queries to documents, especially for natural language queries, you know that the queries are getting longer, they have more words and sometimes those words are important and sometimes they don’t.”
Cutts is quoted again in the above article elaborating on the idea of precision:
“…the idea behind Hummingbird is that if you’re doing a query, it might be a natural language query, and you might include a word that you don’t necessarily need…
… Some of those words don’t matter that much.
And previously, Google used to only match the words in the query.
Now, we start to say which ones are actually more useful and which ones are most important. “
This is the beginning of Google’s development to understand topics and what users really want.
Most importantly, Google’s focus on precision continues and can be seen in their increasingly sophisticated ranking technologies such as Google Lens, where Google can rank web pages based on users searching with images from their mobile phones.
For example, one can take a snapshot of a bug that is on the ground and search with that.
Precision In User Intent
A change in search engines dating to around 2012/2013 is Google’s increased use of user intent in search results.
Google did not announce the submission of user intent to the search results.
And the reporting went on a question-and-answer session in June 2011 between Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan where Cutts discusses user intent going over the heads of the people reporting it.
In the Q&A, Cutts talks about how Larry Page approached him and asked why the search results [warm mangoes] weren’t so good.
Cutts wondered what the user intended for that search and discovered some facts about how warm mangoes ripen in a box.
I was there during the Q&A, and I was amazed by Google’s ambition to integrate user intent into the search results.
But none of the reports in 2011 understood how the search [warm mangoes] fits with what Cutts was talking about, even though he mentioned the phrase “user intent.”
So, it was told as a funny story about a warm mango tree.
Over 10 years later, everyone is talking about consumer intent.
But there is a new understanding of intention that goes beyond the current understanding of it.
The understanding is that user intent is more than just informational, transactional, etc.
Those 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 from content optimization tools website Inlinks shares their revolutionary approach to understanding user intent:
“Verbs fundamentally change keyword research.
My best practice recommendation is to abandon the idea of describing “User Intent” as “Informational/Navigational/Transactional/commercial or Local Intent”.
Boxing consumer intent into just four vague descriptions is not entirely accurate.
User intent when searching is much more subtle 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 could do keyword research which finds search volumes around phrases like “Mustang” or even “Horse power” which are completely different topics and concepts, which may be relevant to a topic website or not.
Here’s the key point: Words generated through keyword research are not specifically relevant to what anyone is looking for without a verb in the search query to provide the search context.
The verb “ride” and “mustang” together suggest a completely different meaning and audience than the verb “drive” and “mustang.”
Furthermore, a phrase like “buy a Mustang” probably doesn’t apply to a horse website because the most popular intent is related to a motor vehicle.
Without any other information about the user, you can’t know for sure except to guess based on the most popular intent.
Google may well know more about the user, based on their search history, but all you can do as an SEO is to be true to the subject and purpose of your website.
If you start writing content around a keyword phrase just because the search volumes are high, the site may lose context, rather than improve the context.
Analyzing verbs in keyword research is one of the ideas we’ve been investigating at InLinks.net.
Using NLP algorithms can help weed out irrelevant keyword suggestions when the entities and verbs in user queries are checked for proximity to topics in your own content.”
Search Queries Have Evolved
It’s important to note that Google continues to evolve what it means to search. Searching initially involved typing words into a desktop or laptop computer.
Then, it meant speaking those queries to a mobile phone.
Now, it changes to search content with images through the Google Lens app.
For example, I wanted more information about a bottle of wine in the shop. I took a picture of it and submitted it to Google Lens, which returned search results for that wine.
What is notable about evolving search queries is that Google is driving the evolution by creating new ways for users to search, such as 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, bringing you a more immersive, informed and personalized shopping experience.
Powering this experience is the Shopping Graph, our AI-enhanced model that now understands more than 35 billion product listings – up from 24 billion last year.”
And then there’s multisearch, a new way to search:
With multisearch, you can take a picture *and* ask a question to get the look you want or fix something. 🤯 We’re bringing this new way of searching to 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 to how users can search and how Google presents information is an opportunity for businesses to claim a share of the new ways to search and be discovered.
The old road of 10 blue lines is long behind us, powered by changes in technology.
It’s a new era to search. Are you up to date?
Featured Image: Masson/Shutterstock