Cherry Picking from 50 Google Updates in April

When Google circulated their algorithm/infrastructure updates in February, I foolishly attempted to comment on every single one, something that proved to be incredibly arduous last time, albeit interesting in a kind of academic way.  Given that ordeal, I hope you will forgive me for skipping March and picking up the baton now for the April changes.

This month Google have been so kind to let us know about 50 more changes*, but since finding something useful to say about them all proved somewhat pointless before, below I've cherry picked out the ones that are actually of note.

1. Categorize paginated documents. [launch codename "Xirtam3", project codename "CategorizePaginatedDocuments"] Sometimes, search results can be dominated by documents from a paginated series. This change helps surface more diverse results in such cases.

2. More language-relevant navigational results. [launch codename "Raquel"] For navigational searches when the user types in a web address, such as [bol.com], we generally try to rank that web address at the top. However, this isn't always the best answer. For example, bol.com is a Dutch page, but many users are actually searching in Portuguese and are looking for the Brazilian email service, http://www.bol.uol.com.br/. This change takes into account language to help return the most relevant navigational results.

3. Country identification for webpages. [launch codename "sudoku"] Location is an important signal we use to surface content more relevant to a particular country. For a while we've had systems designed to detect when a website, subdomain, or directory is relevant to a set of countries. This change extends the granularity of those systems to the page level for sites that host user generated content, meaning that some pages on a particular site can be considered relevant to France, while others might be considered relevant to Spain.

Here is Google using some schema/markup suggestions they made to webmasters some months ago - pagination tagging (first unveiled in September last year) and hreflang tags (from December).  It's reassuring to see that when Google asks us to do something to make their lives easier, they actually use the resulting data, albeit 6 months later (which I assume is the time it takes for a reasonable number of sites to implement the suggestions more than the time it takes to build the tech needed to understand the data).  Note that several other changes Google listed also pertain to geo-location, so it looks like the hreflang tags we've all diligently been implementing (right?) are getting a good workout.

13. No freshness boost for low-quality content. [launch codename "NoRot", project codename "Freshness"] We have modified a classifier we use to promote fresh content to exclude fresh content identified as particularly low-quality.

This is an interesting one only because it's something you'd assume Google would have done a long time ago.  Last time I discussed document classifiers at length (in the response to change number 14) and this change is basically considering two of them at once (the one that says whether a document is fresh and the one that says whether a document is trash) rather than independently.

In laymans terms, "just because it's new, doesn't make it good".  While the common sense reaction to this would be "well, duh!", anyone who has read Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? knows that Google engineers have anything but common sense.

24. More efficient generation of alternative titles. [launch codename "HalfMarathon"] We use a variety of signals to generate titles in search results. This change makes the process more efficient, saving tremendous CPU resources without degrading quality.

25. More concise and/or informative titles. [launch codename "kebmo"] We look at a number of factors when deciding what to show for the title of a search result. This change means you'll find more informative titles and/or more concise titles with the same information.

Whenever we have been on the receiving end of Google fiddling with dispaly titles in the SERPs (thankfully so far a rare occurence) it has been nothing but frustrating.  As a search marketer I'm innately distrustful of this change since the title is one of the few ways I have of influencing click through rates.

36. Increase base index size by 15%. [project codename "Indexing"] The base search index is our main index for serving search results and every query that comes into Google is matched against this index. This change increases the number of documents served by that index by 15%. *Note: We're constantly tuning the size of our different indexes and changes may not always appear in these blog posts.

37. New index tier. [launch codename "cantina", project codename "Indexing"] We keep our index in "tiers" where different documents are indexed at different rates depending on how relevant they are likely to be to users. This month we introduced an additional indexing tier to support continued comprehensiveness in search results.

Basic SEO training will never be the same again - we now have an official nomenclature for the "main" index, and a way of referring to what we all know about the indexing rate of different pages in the index - that it varies according to importance.  

* Note that Google says there are 52 changes in total but there are "only" 50 in the list published at http://insidesearch.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/search-quality-highlights-53-changes.html

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