Search remains one of the most important technological functions in the modern world. Search engines like Google and Bing offer a gateway to the wealth of information hosted online to users all over the world, and the tech giants behind these search engines are constantly changing their methods, algorithms, and features to provide users with even more refined search results. Many changes have affected searching in 2018, and Google has spearheaded the majority of the most relevant changes. Looking forward to 2019, it’s crucial to understand the current state of search and the most recent changes that will impact searching for the foreseeable future.
Google Remains the Dominant Search Engine
The Google search engine still commands most of the market share of all internet searches, and digital marketing professionals are constantly playing a guessing game when it comes to the Google search engine’s algorithm. Essentially, rankings fluctuate so much that marketers and webmasters must make educated guesses to navigate possible changes that Google may or may not have made until Google officially acknowledges and confirms changes.
Digital marketing is something of a tug-of-war between marketers and search engine providers like Google; while marketers look for any and all means of improving their search rankings, Google is constantly tweaking its algorithms to ensure a level playing field for everyone.
2018 Algorithm Changes
In early March of 2018, Google made a core algorithm adjustment with the intention of boosting rankings for “under-rewarded” sites. This change was one of the rare examples of Google officially confirming an algorithm change. In most cases, Google either confirms changes much later after implementing them or other webmasters confirm changes through their own testing and publish their findings.
Another major change to Google in early 2018 was the page speed ranking system. Google began docking sites in rankings if their sites had slow page loading speeds, encouraging web developers to invest in faster-loading sites to avoid suffering in search rankings. One of the best changes for developers was the improved Google Search Console that offers 16 months of performance history.
Cracking Down on Image Piracy
Not all of the Google search changes in the past year have been well-received. In February of 2018 Google removed the “View Image” function from image searches, making it more difficult for users to save images directly from the search engine. Previously, the View Image selection allowed a user to view an image on its own, effectively making it simple to save the image for use later. This change comes following complaints from photographers and artists who complained that Google search made it too easy for people to steal their work.
Google also announced agreements with several image hosting websites to add copyright information and increase attribution to images in search results. This change and the removal of the View Image tool encourage users to visit websites for the images they want, effectively driving traffic to those sites and boosting revenue from placed ads.
More Secure Searching
One of the biggest changes is the new warning that appears when a user visits an HTTP site instead of an HTTPS site. The “S” stands for “secure,” and users who click on a non-HTTPS now see a warning from Google that the site they are about to visit is not secure. Naturally, this has led to very high bounce rates for many non-HTTPS sites, encouraging the developers behind these sites to invest in more robust site security and switch to an HTTPS.
New Search Verticals
Google is also improving user experiences by adding How-To guides, FAQs, and Q&A-related results to searches. For example, when a user searches for a phrase in the form of a question, Google will now display results that match the search query above the rest of the results, effectively pointing the user to the content he or she will likely find most relevant. This change offers marketers a chance to top rankings by developing content with the appropriate markup tags.
Machine Learning and AI Lead the Way Into 2019
Google’s new RankBrain system is a little over a year old now, and SEO experts and marketers are still trying to figure out the intricacies of this new machine learning system. Ultimately, RankBrain exists to help identify user intent and provide a robust search result that may or may not contain keywords used in a search. RankBrain constantly adjusts rankings based on different factors. For example, in one set of search results, RankBrain may notice that the results’ metadata is the most critical metric for improving the user experience, while it may be page speed for another set of results. RankBrain essentially customizes every single search with a set of new algorithms based on past experiences, effectively learning from past trial and error.
Google’s algorithm changes, including the implementation of RankBrain, all focus on user experience. Ultimately, Google hopes that the RankBrain system will evolve to the point where it can provide the most relevant and valuable content with minimal input from a user, based on past experiences, and web developers and marketers will need to provide relevant content that flows naturally.
Artificial intelligence is certainly a major driving force behind searching for the foreseeable future, and Google AI aims to refine user searches to provide users with the highest quality content available. AI also helps improve existing algorithms by learning from past interactions and applying different metrics to specific queries, effectively curating search results tailored to individual users. One of the major roadblocks when it comes to AI implementation in recent years is the ability of a machine to interpret human language. While direct translation is easily feasible, understanding nuance, vernacular, and more natural language is difficult for machines.
Search engines exist to help users find what they need and AI-backed search algorithms strive to provide exactly that. This involves testing, learning from past interactions, and applying several algorithms to individual searches to effectively layer search results based on relevancy and value. SEO professionals, marketers, and web developers all have different concerns when it comes to ensuring their websites rank highly in relevant searches, but ultimately their efforts need to focus on enhancing user experiences for the best results.