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Panda, Fresher Results, Spelling Top Google’s January 2012 Search Updates

Danny Goodwin
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google-logo-magnifying-glassA minor update to Google’s Panda update was released in January. This was just one of 14 other search changes Google announced. Others included fresher results, improvements to autocomplete, better spelling corrections, and auto-disabling Instant.

Google also made note of a couple other significant algorithmic updates: the launch of Search Plus Your World, which brought “social” results into Google’s search results, and the page layout algorithm, which targets ad-heavy websites.

Google also reminded website owners that Google reserves the right to change how your title appears in Google’s search result pages – which is hardly a new practice. As Google explained:

"We use many signals to decide which title to show to users, primarily the title tag if the webmaster specified one. But for some pages, a single title might not be the best one to show for all queries, and so we have algorithms that generate alternative titles to make it easier for our users to recognize relevant pages. Our testing has shown that these alternative titles are generally more relevant to the query and can substantially improve the clickthrough rate to the result, helping both our searchers and webmasters. About half of the time, this is the reason we show an alternative title.

Other times, alternative titles are displayed for pages that have no title or a non-descriptive title specified by the webmaster in the HTML. For example, a title using simply the word "Home" is not really indicative of what the page is about. Another common issue we see is when a webmaster uses the same title on almost all of a website’s pages, sometimes exactly duplicating it and sometimes using only minor variations. Lastly, we also try to replace unnecessarily long or hard-to-read titles with more concise and descriptive alternatives."

Here’s a rundown of the other noteworthy changes to Google search in January:

Panda

Google’s Panda update (a.k.a., Google’s “high quality sites” algorithm) received a “minor” update in January. It doesn’t seem as though Google has changed anything about what Panda was created to target algorithmically.

However, what may be more noteworthy is that Panda updates, which generally occurred roughly every 4-8 weeks last year and were believed to be manually updated, are becoming “more integrated” with Google’s indexing and ranking systems.

With the launch of Panda last year, traffic for several websites vanished as it, and its various iterations, were released – and there have been few stories of recovery. Let us know if you’ve noticed a major downturn in your traffic in recent weeks.

We have covered Panda extensively in the past year. If you think you’ve been hit by this latest update, here are some articles that may help:

Fresher Results

Google launched its freshness update in November. This update was aimed at providing more relevant results for searches that involve timely information, such as recent events, hot topics, recurring events, or topics where information is updated frequently.

In the past month, Google has made some minor updates and adjustments. Google has also made “several improvements” to how it determines the date of a document, which means you’ll want to make sure your website includes timely content. News, blogs, events, and Google+ are some areas that could help your keep your site appearing "fresh" to Google.

Google Instant

Google Instant offers the ability to see results as you type, but what if your computer isn’t fast enough? Google will now detect your computer’s speed and shut Instant off automatically.

In Google's search settings, you now have three options for Google Instant predictions:

  • Only when your computer is fast enough.
  • Always show Instant results.
  • Never show Instant results.

Previously Google has disabled Instant for people with a slow Internet connection.

Autocomplete & Spelling

Google improved its infrastructure for handling spelling corrections in autocomplete last month. Now, Google says it is delivering autocomplete suggestions more quickly. Additionally, for small spelling errors Google has made autocomplete more consistent with Google search.

There were two other changes related to spelling corrections. When there are spelling errors, Google will now tell you that it’s showing a search results page for the corrected version of that query (e.g., “cheetah” vs. “cheettah"). Google also says it has improved spelling corrections for “a number of rare queries.”

Image Search

One significant change to Google Images is that pictures with “high-quality" landing pages will now rank higher in Image results. This follows from last month, when Google announced that it had improved how it analyzes landing page signals, and the size of images became a ranking signal in Image Search.

Google has also updated how scrolling works, meaning the navigation on the sides will no longer stay in place when you scroll through images.

News Results

Google has made a couple of adjustments to news results. An improved news algorithm is designed to better respond to real-time trends and decide which queries should return news articles in search results. Google also has “made an adjustment” to how news results are blended in universal search.

Languages

Google will now generate related searches by auto-detecting the language of the query (e.g., a user typing a query in French might see French query refinements, even if the language is set to English). One other language update: Google users in Saudi Arabia can now choose to search in English.

Related Searches

Google said related searches, generally located at the bottom of the search results page (“Searches related to…”), are now more relevant. Google says they have “updated the model for generating related searches, resulting in more useful query refinements.”

Previous Search Changes

In December, Google made several changes, including an updating algorithm for picking relevant sitelinks, better detection of rich snippets, better spam detection for image search, and faster mobile browsing. The full list can be found on Google’s Inside Search blog.

You can also catch up on more of Google’s search changes here and here.


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