Mind-Reading Strategies

Four takeaways from the new Google Search algorithm.

Late last year, Google Search rolled out some new changes to its algorithm that I’ve been thinking about. Changes to the algorithm aren’t necessarily anything special, and of the 500–600 changes and tweaks that happen on a yearly basis, not all of them really matter. These, however, change things quite a bit for everyone.


What I found is that Google Search is using your search journey to keep track of your engagement signals and present intentional results.


It’s a decent chunk of inside baseball to unpack, but it’s essentially saying that Google Search is working very hard at learning not only your intent but your instinct. I had these four takeaways while processing all the new information about the Google Search Algorithm:


1) Search results are being presented for what you want to see even if you haven’t searched for it yet.


It’s more thoroughly explained at the Search Engine Journal, but for us to unravel it here, we just need to know that your search journey is Google looking at what you first searched for in the context of what you last searched for and vice versa.


Let’s say I search for “bone broth,” then “bone broth health,” and then “bone broth for hair loss recipe.” Next I switch to searching for “fried kool aid recipe” and Google considers my search journey on bone broth complete.


Google tracks those engagement signals, and if my search journey on bone broth becomes common, results for “bone broth for hair loss recipe” will eventually start to show up in the results for “bone broth.” We’re all creatures of habit with similar patterns, a fact Google Search can use to see what we find at the end of our search journey and give it to the next person at the beginning.


These intentional results rank the desires of the searcher. In our previous example, we have “bone broth for hair loss recipe” results showing up for “bone broth” results, but as we go through the rankings of other examples, we can see how intention is structured.


A search for “Coronavirus” will show results from news outlets, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in that order, because searchers are most frequently interested in recency, authority, and credibility, in that order.


Similarly, a search for “plumbers in Dubuque” will show results in the order of the three main qualities important to people searching: locality, reviews, and content quality. The closest plumber will beat out the one with the best reviews, who will in turn beat out the one with the most information on its website.


Sound invasive? Some people are starting to think so.


2) People with privacy concerns have started using other search engines—kind of.


People aren’t turning away from Google Search in a mass exodus or anything, but the two-percent drop in its desktop searches from the previous year at this same time show there might be some trust issues at play. Despite still leading with a massive share of 73.22 percent of desktop searches, Google has seen a decrease in users five out of the past six months—around the same time the new algorithm was implemented.


As these features are further developed and discovered, that share could continue to go down, leaving Bing and Baidu with more scraps to fight over. Of course, Google still dominates the market with a share of 91.2 percent of mobile searches, an increase of almost 10 percent over the previous year at this time. Good news for them, because I get the feeling that the most successful sites and pages will reflect the needs of modernity.


3) The most successful sites and pages will reflect the needs of modernity.


Maybe this is obvious since “Hey, let’s do this new thing that works better” is pretty much how everything (except incorporating basic human rights into a structurally oppressive society) has worked for the entirety of time itself. Still, with Google favoring sites that actually get clicked on, pages that have mobile versions will show up higher on results as mobile searches increase.


After a period of going back and forth in terms of popularity, mobile searches took a secure lead ahead of desktop searches within the past year. According to a SmartInsights.com article, 30 percent of pages that show on the first page of desktop search results do not appear in the top 10 results on mobile.


Pages and websites that lean into the increase in voice searches will do well, too. Quora Creative’s latest voice search statistics trends research showed that the top three common voice search words are “how,” what,” and “best.” With Alexa, Siri, and other question-based voice-search options, results that are tailored as direct answers instead of chunks of information might fare better.


4) There’s no way to cheat the engine into better organic results.


Google Ads and marketing through Google are still ways to get pages seen above organic results, but with greasing the system through the traditional Technical Search Engine Optimization (SEO) process becoming a thing of the past, websites are either going to have to actually be what people want or someone is going to have to pay for it.


There’s not really a “one-size-fits-all” design for searching these days. The Technical SEO method of having a list of keywords in the metadata and gearing the content to the keywords themselves instead of the person searching just doesn’t work anymore. Google knows that people want Quality Content as an idea unto itself as opposed to just being something found on a website that’s easily indexed and accessed by a search engine.


At the end of the day, Google still wants to provide relevant ads to keep both sides—the company and the consumer—satisfied. That said, I have to wonder how the shifting focus to content quality affects what “relevancy” becomes in terms of advertising.


I’m qualified to wonder that because—I don’t get to brag about this often, so forgive me—I’m Google Ads Certified in Search, Measurement, and Display. While Google’s motto of “Don’t be evil” remains mostly intact with all these algorithm developments, I can tell you this, certified or not: Google doesn’t lose.