Every month, Google makes tons of tiny changes to the way search works. It shares them in company blog posts that present a list of carefully scripted bullet points with mysterious code names in an inscrutable order. Google never comments on the changes beyond these announcements, but it's always informative to spread the puzzle pieces out on the table and see what Google is up to. Here's what changed in April.
We thought there were a lot of changes in March, but April was even bigger. Google changed 52 things about its search algorithm last month. As usual, you don't need to worry about a bunch of them. But the most interesting of the latest search changes fall into three important categories.
The more Google can guess (correctly) what we're looking for, the faster we can find it. Google is getting better at untangling our spelling mistakes, interpreting our meaning and answering our questions.
One update helps Google interpret your intention by looking at your last few searches. If your first query doesn't find what you're looking for, your next try will be improved by the signals Google got from that last one.
The feature that automatically searches for the corrected spelling of your query is now available internationally. A separate change will decrease the number of bad spelling suggestions for international users. Another suppresses the number of unhelpful "did you mean?" suggestions. Google also now makes more spelling corrections for queries longer than 10 terms.
Many of April's updates extended smarts that were already available in English to other languages. Currency conversion has been improved in Turkish, news results in Serbian got a better presentation and SafeSearch signals were improved in Russian.
SafeSearch is the setting that lets the user decide how much explicit content shows up in search, so Russian users will be glad that's improved. The overall SafeSearch models were improved, too, with special attention paid to videos and images.
Google is always trying to improve the local flavor of its search results. That helps Google connect users with their real-world intentions to go out and do (and buy) things, and that's what makes Google's ads worth buying.
In April, Google improved localization of search results by language and country. A change with codename "ImpOrgMap2" made it more likely that a query would find a site for an organization from one's own country, such as mexico.cnn.com for Mexico, rather than cnn.com.
You can now find the time of sunrise and sunset internationally with a quick Google search.
Local searches in the U.S. now have better autocomplete predictions. Google expanded autocomplete to cover the whole long tail of U.S. local search queries, including addresses and small businesses.
If you search for places and include location terms (like "Pok Pok restaurant Portland"), a change called "onebar-I" increases the likelihood of getting a navigation result at the top. This will be handy for mobile searches. Google also improved HTML5 resource caching, which means that mobile pages will load faster.
If search results aren't relevant, nothing else matters. Google is constantly tweaking its definition of relevance, and April's updates include some major improvements and some much-needed fine-tuning.
Google has been trying to figure out the right way to adjust search results for "freshness," especially for topics where new content is important, such as breaking news stories. The initial freshness efforts were too aggressive, and now it has more granular rankings, so the freshness of a page affects its search ranking more gradually.
The freshness signals were also improved, and pages that Google deems to be of low quality for other reasons no longer get a boost for freshness.
Google also increased the size of its whole base search index by 15%, which means that your search queries now look through 15% more objects on the Web. Google is constantly tweaking the size of its index, but this is a big adjustment, so it earned a mention in Google's summary.
Universal Search results got lots of improvements in April. Google News results that appear in search got a new appearance. Chinese, Korean and Japanese users now get movie times right in their Google searches. There are new Major League Baseball, La Liga (Spain's main soccer league) and Formula 1 racing search features that show swanky box scores in search. The NHL feature, which was already available, has been improved to show up more often when relevant.
Japanese and Korean users got better support for "soft 404" error pages. A page that returns valid text but only says something like "page not found" is not the same as a page that's really missing, so Google needs to know not to index those and show them.
But best of all, Google took a variety actions last month against sites that game the system. Under codename "Spam," Google improved its ability to detect sites that indulge in keyword stuffing. This was part of a broader effort to stop search spam by various high-level algorithm changes.
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