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Local Results, Link Evaluation & Freshness Signals Top Google’s February Search Updates

Danny Goodwin
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google-logo-magnifying-glassChanges to local search results topped Google’s monthly recap of search and algorithmic updates from February, but there were nearly 40 new updates revealed, including changes to link evaluation, freshness, Panda, page detection, and more.

Local Search & Location

The Venice Update is a noteworthy change to Google’s local search results. Google said it is now relying more on its main search result rankings as a signal to trigger local universal results.

Google makes no secrets about increasing search personalization, and this change will deliver searchers greater personalization, based on the location they have given Google.

This is a big opportunity for local websites to appear more prominently on the first page of Google’s search results. While relevance, distance, and prominence are established Google ranking factors for Places listings (also see “Understanding the 98 Google Local Ranking Factors”), now it seems traditional organic search (SE0) ranking factors will become a key factor in whether a local website appears on Page 1 of Google’s organic results.

Another change related to local is that Google can now better detect when queries and documents are local to users – based on their city – thanks to a newly launched system. Google has also “refreshed” the associations for country URLs.

SEOptimiseBlogstorm, and PPC Blog have some examples of how results are already shifting. Meanwhile, Elevate Local has noted that these location changes may have already had an impact on the local UK versions of Amazon and eBay, which have seen their search visibility rise, while amazon.com and ebay.com domains have lost visibility.

Link Evaluation Method Retired

Another hot topic is that Google has killed off one of its long-time link evaluation methods. As Google explained:

"We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable."

There’s plenty of speculation about this topic. Bill Slawski offers a dozen possible methods that might have changed, including local interconnectivity, anchor text indexing, and cross-language information retrieval.

Meanwhile, signals such as anchor text, the title tag, surrounding text, position of a link, and HTML signals are among the possible retired evaluation methods, based on speculation at WebmasterWorld.

What other methods of link evaluation could Google have changed? Anchor text, affiliate links, and link age are among the possibilities, according to Dave Naylor.

What link analysis method do you think was turned off? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Freshness, Spiking Topics & News

After making several minor updates in January to its fresh results – searches that involve timely information, such as recent events, hot topics, recurring events, or topics where information is updated frequently – Google has further added new signals that will “surface fresh content” in search results. Google has also disabled two unspecified old classifiers related to query freshness.

In addition, Google has consolidated a “number of signals” it uses to detect when a new topic is spiking as a popular search term in real time.

On what seems like a related “freshness” update, Google has fixed a bug that should result in triggering universal news results for searches.

Panda Refresh

Like last month, Google made a small update to Panda to make it “more accurate” and “sensitive” to changes on the web. This follows last month’s update that made Panda “more integrated” with Google’s indexing and ranking systems.

Most are referring to the February update as Panda 3.3, for those who feel the need to keep track of these updates by number.

Official Page Detection

Google said it can now more accurately identify official pages. This fixes pages that previously were incorrectly identified as official.

Related Searches, Site Search, Spam & More

One signal Google uses to generate related searches is queries typed in succession. Google says it has refined this model and should result in more relevant related search queries. In addition, Google has added a “new data source” that will help generate the “Searches related to” section.

Some other minor search changes:

  • Sitelinks: Signals have been adjusted to reduce duplicate snippets based on page content rather than the query.
  • “Site:” Operator Queries: More diverse results.
  • SafeSearch: Irrelevant adult content has been removed “for many queries.”
  • Spam: Stronger protection.
  • Autocomplete: Unknown number of offensive and inappropriate terms removed.
  • English Spelling Correction: More accuracy on rare queries.

And one slightly older update: for those searching for concerts, Google has added upcoming tour dates and locations for musicians beneath the artist or band’s official website, but only if the concert is in your area within the next few months. Google will provide a link to websites selling tickets. This is an English-only feature.

Fresher Images & More of Them

Google has expanded its index of images for universal search, meaning more relevant images will be shown for more queries. Meanwhile, a new signal adjustment means Google can now find and show images much more quickly.

In another tweak to image content, to be more consistent “across result types”, mobile, and tablet, Google has adjusted the thumbnail sizes to rich snippet results for recipes and applications, movie posters, shopping results, book results, and news results, among others.

Detection of adult content in SafeSearch has also been improved to align with other search results.

International

Google’s international and foreign language search updates:

  • Shopping rich snippets, previously available only in the U.S., Germany, and Japan, have launched globally.
  • Google Korea’s search results are more organized with sections for news, blogs, and homepages. Korean spelling has also improved for queries typed in the wrong keyboard mode.
  • Web History has launched for users with Google accounts in Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Morocco, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Estonia, Kuwait, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Nigeria, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Bosnia and Herzegowina, Azerbaijan, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Republic of Moldova, and Ghana.
  • Portuguese, Dutch and Italian languages have been added to a classifier that detects pages containing error messages (a.k.a., soft 404s).
  • More foreign language synonyms are offered based on search query terms.
  • Better weather search feature triggering for Turkish users.

Video

YouTube predictions are more locally relevant. As Google explained, “… for the query [lady gaga in ] performed on the US version of YouTube, we might predict [lady gaga in times square], but for the same search performed on the Indian version of YouTube, we might predict [lady gaga in India].”

Google also announced improved “decorated” snippets for video channels, and how these snippets are generated.

Travel Search Results

More flight-related search queries will return Google’s Flight Search feature more often. On a related Flight Search note, Android and iPhone users can now find available flight information, including departure and arrival, duration, airlines, and cost on mobile searches such as [flights from dallas to new york city]. You can then further research using Google Flight Search the same as you would on a PC.


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