The Next Evolution of Google Search

From providing more accurate results to filtering out harmful content, the next evolution in Google Search will change how users obtain information.

Google Search depends on AI technology to adapt to changes in Internet tech, current events, and human behavior.
Google’s progressive evolution has been and continues to be a direct result in changing technology, changing trends, and changing human habits.

Google is the world’s most popular website and the Internet’s #1 most trusted search engine. While its basic visual layout saw very little change since its launch nearly a quarter century ago, the inner-workings of Google Search underwent constant changes in accordance to growing use among the public and the advancements of Internet technology. Google Search was secretly evolving, except that it was all happening right in front of everyone’s eyes–and continues to do so in the present day.

Evolving From Pandas to Coatis

For most users, Google Panda (from 2012) was the latest and most recent Google algorithm update. However, as Google Search VP Hyung-Jin Kim mentioned during the day 1 keynote of the 2022 SMX Next conference, Google Panda quietly evolved behind the scenes and without detection from the general public until it was ultimately replaced by Google Coati.

The Panda algorithm update was originally created to combat the black hat SEO tactic of content farming which, itself, was an unfortunate side-effect of Google Caffeine (from 2010). Back then, websites and Internet businesses that were looking for cheap ways to make quick cash would contract disreputable media companies (such as Demand Media and Suite 101) and amateur freelance writers to flood the web with a low-quality written content blitz, anything to capitalize on high-ranking keywords in Google Search. Those that successfully locked in prime Google rankings took advantage of the traffic generated from those keywords and would monetize it through display ads. The Panda update set out to punish such websites by severely downgrading their ranks VIA the algorithm; it forever changed the way the entire SEO industry operates and, inadvertently, also changed how users obtain their requested relevant information through Google.

Both Panda and Coati were created in response to, what Google felt was, the Internet heading in the wrong direction. In 2016, Panda and Coati were absorbed into Google’s Core Ranking System, the main engine that generates the individual search engine results pages (SERPs) whenever someone does a search through Google. Panda and Coati both served the same purpose; to improve search quality and to inspire content creators to deliver higher-quality material as opposed to hijacking the search with junk content. The next evolution in Google Search, driven by increasing implementation of AI technology, aims to double down on their mission of delivering more accurate information to users in more natural and intuitive ways.

Google’s AI-Driven Search Technology

On November 21st, Google unveiled a new guide to Google Search Ranking Systems. Inside, Google explains the details behind their diverse automated ranking systems such as:

  • BERT
  • Crisis information systems
  • Deduplication systems
  • Exact match domain system
  • Freshness systems
  • Helpful content system
  • Link analysis systems and PageRank
  • Local news systems
  • MUM
  • Neural matching
  • Original content systems
  • Removal-based demotion systems
  • Page experience system
  • Passage ranking system
  • Product reviews system
  • RankBrain
  • Reliable information systems
  • Site diversity system
  • Spam detection systems

Instead of manually researching and adjusting Google Search based on developing Internet trends and user behaviors, AI technology will learn and recognize patterns faster and more efficiently than teams of human programmers. Google Search results will be more detailed, with greater emphasis on context and topics, and Google’s constant adjustments to its numerous AI systems help them decide which information is relevant and reliable.

Delivering great results at this type of scale and complexity requires many different systems, and we’re always looking to improve these systems so we can display the most useful results possible.

Danny Sullivan
Google Search Public Liaison

Changes and updates to Google Search don’t just happen on a whim; each adjustment is subjected to a series of rigorous testing processes before it gets implemented into the main system. Last year, Google performed over 700,000 experiments which led to 4,000 new improvements made to Search. Sullivan also explained, “Data from these evaluations and experiments go through a thorough review by experienced engineers and search analysts, as well as other legal and privacy experts who then determine if the change is approved to launch.”

How People Use Google Search Today

Search has always been used by people to understand new terminology and current affairs but it’s not the topics that change over time, it’s the terms they use. Search phrases usually consist of two parts. Topics are described in one and contexts are described in the other. These descriptive words are called modifiers. They facilitate the navigation of information.

Modifiers can provide advertisers with powerful insights into rapidly changing consumer needs. The data provides a picture of people’s feelings and emotions around a particular topic–an early indication of changes in demand. For example, people may initially search for definitions of new words that enter their vocabulary, such as “inflation meaning”. Searches around this topic will become more specific as people add new words over time. As search interest for a topic shifts over time, modifiers provide context about what people are thinking about at the moment and what it is that they’re searching.

What’s to Be Expected

The changes to Google Search go beyond tweaking its methodology; they are aimed at making it more contextual and allowing users to search in “more natural and intuitive” ways, according to Sullivan. A feature on Google’s mobile app called Multisearch allows users to take a picture and add text to it, then search by both image and text. A new feature called multisearch near me will allow you to use the same search functionality but find local results. For example, if you take a picture of sushi, Google will find and list sushi restaurants near your location.

Sullivan also says Google is also trying to make some searches–such as exploring a new city–more visual by highlighting work from content creators. A new upcoming feature will allow people to create instructional videos and provide firsthand advice. Discussions and forums, a feature currently found in Search, might also bring you to a conversation where an expert (either a certified expert or any of the countless self-appointed “experts” on the Internet) is arguing against your topic of interest.

Mobile search results were given priority over desktop search results a few algorithm updates ago, which is why some may notice some disparity between the same search term and different results based on the device being used to view. The reason for this being that Google prefers mobile-friendly websites and content. On mobile devices, fast-loading content that renders well on a mobile screen will typically rank higher. Google intends to prioritize content from real people versus content farmers, just as what the Google Panda algorithm had done in the past. Of course, this will once again alter how SEO practices are carried out but as Sullivan explains, “SEO isn’t some special method to appear in the top results. The key thing is what our advice to anyone has long been: Create helpful content for people, not search engines.”

Spammers and Scammers

Every day, Google uncovers about 40,000,000,000 spam pages and malicious content on the Internet. Google can filter out almost 99% of it from search, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult to stay on top of the ever-growing amount of malware and spam content. Google’s SpamBrain AI-based spam prevention system has identified 6X more spam sites in 2021 than the previous year.

Nevertheless, there is still a degree of spam and malware that slips through the cracks of Google’s scrutinous spambusting filters. In spite of their efforts, Google still drew heavy criticism for their failure to weed out misleading information. This year alone, there have been a number of prominent instances where malware and deceptive ads made it past Google, such as allowing an ad for a fake fraud site which contained info-stealing malware and antiabortion groups masquerading as legit women’s health centers.

Google attempts to combat malicious websites and content by “verifying advertisers’ identities and identifying coordinated activity between accounts using signals in our network.”, according to Google Ads liaison Ginny Marvin. Automated systems alongside a panel of human researchers search for abuse in over 180 countries. Marvin says, “To provide a sense of scale of our enforcement efforts in 2021, we removed over 3.4 billion ads, restricted over 5.7 billion ads, and suspended over 5.6 billion advertisers accounts.”

Regardless, the process is still not bulletproof. Suspicious users that encounter a dodgy ad or search result can click on the three dots next to the ad and select ‘About This Ad’, which will display the advertiser’s information and why the ad was displayed. Users can report suspected harmful material and Google’s My Ads Center gives some control back to users in regards to what ads will be shown. Conversely, some advocates say that this approach is still insufficient and that Google isn’t doing nearly enough to protect their users.

Identifying and Eliminating Shady Merchants from Google Shopping 

As with fraudulent websites, Google is also planning to crack down harder on illegitimate merchants selling through Google Shopping.

That’s a challenge for Google. We are always adapting to keep bad merchants of listings off our platforms, and it’s an area we’re heavily focused on as we scale the number of merchants and products listed on Google. There is no finish line in fighting fraud.

Matt Madrigal
Vice President of Merchant Shopping

Google policies prohibit false advertising, misrepresentation, and bootleg merchandise. Merchants are subjected to the same degrees of verification as with search results and Google Ads; through automation and a team of human moderators. Whenever a deceitful merchant is discovered, users are encouraged to send feedback but at the present time, there is no direct way to report them to Google directly. Google hopes that with enough cooperation and participation from the Google user base to monitor and police themselves, it will help prevent Google’s systems and internal workforce from being overwhelmed with individual cases. Katie Paul, director of the nonprofit Tech Transparency Project disagrees with Google’s approach to combating fraud on their own system. She says that the trend of asking the public to police the system themselves is troubling, especially when the company in question–Google–has the resources to hire more moderators.

We see this same cookie-cutter response from Google. Like Facebook, we see companies saying, ‘Report this information when you see it,’ but at the same time this multibillion-dollar company puts the onus back on users to clean up their own search platform, their primary profit mechanism.

Katie Paul
Director at Tech Transparency Project

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