Google Gets Better At Not Having To Send Users To Other Sites

    August 15, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Google went longer than usual without sharing its normally monthly lists of algorithm changes and “search quality highlights,” but finally, at the end of last week, the company put up one giant list covering changes it made in June and July. In all, there were 86 changes (not counting the ones Google blogged about separately), and we’ve been analyzing them since.

As usual, “quality” continues to be a major focus for Google, but I see three major themes in Google’s latest batch of changes, that give us an idea of what Google has really been focusing on: natural language understanding, quick answers and a decreased dependence on keywords. Really, these all go together hand in hand. All in all, this means Google is giving users less reasons to click through to other sites and reducing the value of keyword-driven search engine optimization, which could make things more difficult for your SEO strategy.

Is Google moving in the right direction? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Getting Better At Natural Language

Make no mistake. Google is getting better at understanding natural language, and this summer, Google has made a lot of changes (improvements, according to Google) in supporting and detecting it. There were ten items on the big list directly related to natural language, and others a little more indirectly related.

Google has improved support and/or detection for natural language for its dictionary feature, its time feature, its movie showtimes feature, its currency conversion feature, its flight status feature, its unit conversion feature, its sunrise/sunset feature, and its baseball scores/schedules feature. It’s now better at answering questions like: “What time is it in India?” or “What is $500 in Euros?” or “What is 5 miles in kilometers?”

Decreased Dependence on Keywords

Directly related to natural language, are Google’s improvements in how it treats synonyms of words. Five additional changes from the list had to do with synonyms specifically. Google says it has improved the use of query synonyms in ranking.

“Now we’re less likely to show documents where the synonym has a different meaning than the original search term,” the company said.

Google says it has also improved synonyms inside concepts, improved efficiency by not computing synonyms in certain cases, changed how its using synonyms to better generate accurate titles for web results, and updated its synonym systems to make it less likely it will return adult content when users aren’t looking for it.

The point is that Google is further distancing itself from having to rely on keywords to give you relevant results. This has been a key goal of Google’s throughout the years, and is why Google is so proud of its Knowledge Graph offering.

It’s worth noting, however, that as Google understands natural language more and more, it is able to give you the information you seek more and more, meaning you’ll have less of a reason to click through to a third-party site. That scares some webmasters, who rely on Google for traffic.

If you peruse the list of natural language-related changes, you’ll see that they’re all related to features where Google gives you direct (or quick) answers right from the search results page.

Giving Users The Answers

That brings us to the next major theme of Google’s recent changes: Answers. A whopping 23 of the changes from the list were related to Google’s project “Answers,” which consists of these types of results. If Google is giving users the answers they are seeking without making users take an extra step (of clicking through to another site), it’s doing its job right, as far as the user is concerned. Users just want to find info, and the quicker the better.

On the webmasters’ side of things, it’s a little more complicated than that, however. The better Google gets at this, and the more topics Google can cover with these answers, the more sites will potentially lose Google traffic.

Then There are Acquisitions

Of course, Google isn’t only facilitating this kind of thing with algorithm updates, but also with acquisitions. Google now has a wealth of restaurant reviews, courtesy of its acquisition of Zagat, for example. Now, Google is adding Frommer’s to the acquisition pile. Frommer’s is a travel guide brand, which gives Google a lot more travel content.

Some are saying this will cause antitrust issues for Google, and the company was certainly scrutinized plenty the last time it made a major travel-related acquisition in ITA Software. Ultimately, that acquisition was approved, as was the Zagat acquisition. Still, Google has been met with considerably more antitrust scrutiny since then (now there’s a new probe in India).

All of this stuff, combined with the Knowledge Graph, Search Plus Your World (Google’s largely Google+-based personalization features), and now Gmail in search results (only in limited trial at this point) points to more of user’s time spent on Google’s products, and less on third-parties’. It also means it’s going to get harder to get into Google’s traditional, organic search results for many types of queries.

As a user, do you want to see Google give you less reasons to click through to other sites? As a webmaster or business owner, are you concerned? What impact will this have on your SEO strategy? Let us know in the comments.

For more coverage of Google’s latest list of changes, read:

Google Algorithm Changes For June, July Finally Released

Here’s What Google Has Been Doing For Quality (And Panda) For The Past Two Months

Google Reveals More Mobile Search Improvements

10 Natural Language Search Improvements Google Has Recently Made

Google Moves Further Away From Keyword Dependence

23 Recent Changes Google Made To Give You Better Quick Answers

Google Reveals Some Recent Changes To How It Ranks Results

  • http://wpresponsive.org WP Responsive

    Would love to see a poll attached to this article to see in numbers how many webmasters are not okay with Google’s ability to get better at this, vs those who don’t see it as big a deal.

  • Tom

    The question must be: Do we want a Googlenet instead of Internet? Perfectly “selected” and “prepared” (censored) content!

  • http://csomag-kuldes.com Csomag kuldes

    They can’t eliminate keywords, because that’s how we humans think and search for information. Using keywords and key phrases. Key phrases are LSI basically. I am sure keywords plus key phrases used with natural language is the heart of the algorithm.

    Well, this is my opinion and I might be wrong, but I am sure if a website has the above they’ll be found by google and the others too.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/chris-crum Chris Crum

      It is hard to imagine a total elimination of keywords, for sure. Google continues to find more ways to get search results, however. You can search by taking pictures or even dragging an image file to the search box now, for example. There’s a new Android feature that lets you search by audio clip.

      The work they’re doing with synonyms tells me that even the exact words we actually enter into the search box are even less of a factor in the results we get. Google wants to return the most relevant result, even if that result is based on a different word for the same thing.

      • http://borber.info borber

        I guess the question is not whether or not we want “Googlenet” (thanks for the term, Tom). The question is: what we can do?
        If the only synonims, as Chris pointed, is Google’s main tool to escape the keyword’s dependancy? If synonyms only – may be perfect copywriting may help…

    • http://booksandhealth.com kc

      no, there is two… Amazon needs more money too…it is not quality we are talking; it is the big G; greed.

  • Dustin

    Like a self righteous hypocrite. Don’t copy other sites… Look how perfect we have extract data from other sites! yay! now click on our ads suckers.

    I am not sure most people realize where this is going… there can only be one. But I am just paranoid…

    • Scott

      This is so right! I have known this about Google for years. They don’t like affiliate sites but they are nothing but one big affiliate site. They say don’t copy content but that is exactly what they do.

      Can’t wait for the day we as Internet marketers and website owners stand up to Google.

  • http://booksandhealth.com kc

    No! unless they like government intervention because they will be stopped.

  • Voltara

    They may claim to be downgrading the importance of keywords in content, but they have upgraded relevance of keywords in domains and urls. We recently allocated 1000 parked domains onto new servers and began developing them. In the great majority of cases – perhaps 800 domains – without any significant content were indexed and ranked immediately in the top 5 results on the keyword in the domain. These sites have all held their rankings and in many cases have risen with minimal optimisation.

  • http://www.mindmagic123@yahoo.com Hypnotherapy & Hypnosis _ Los Angeles

    As a small business who gets much of his business via Google organic searches, I am of course concerned. In regards to SEO, that is my problem, as Google is set up for the searchers not the serchees. But I am finding, as I extend my efforts to other areas, directories, articles, posts, etc., I am getting more click throughs and clients outside of Google. Manta, Yelp, Judy’s book etc. I am focusing on doing still more of this to reduce my dependence on ever shifting Google.

  • http://www.the-travel-italy-grapevine.com/ Kathryn

    As owner of 3 websites, one of which is a travel website, of course I am concerned. As everyone should be.

    What I see is that Google has moved away from being a search engine and instead is now a hub of information where it has manipulated the algorithms to drive traffic to the sites they own. We get the breadcrumbs.

    Yahoo and Bing are still search engines.

    Google is becoming the Internet.

  • http://www.greyolltwit.com/ Grey Olltwit

    If Google wants to become some kind of Wikipedia rather than a search engine then hopefully folks will move to other search engines. I for one don’t trust their current answers e.g. their directions in the UK on Google maps is laughable and a recent search for picnic areas on the A14 produced results only for recommended gay hook up spots.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/hand_soap_identification_stickers-217163339245020683 Kelly

    I turned off my “fill in: function on my word processor because it completed info incorrectly. I seriously doubt Google is better than the human brain. As human beings we have a responsibility to be self reliant. Google’s changes assume we all strive to be brainless idiots.

  • JHC

    I’m switching to Bing! Google SERPs sucks since they started with these panda and penguin updates, what I see now is the same site repeated again and again through the SERPs pages.

    • http://gplus.to/arnobie Arnobie

      If you hate Panda and Penguin you must be violating their rules. I can’t see any problem from it. Keywords or metas are old school.

  • http://borber.info borber

    I guess the question is not whether or not we want “Googlenet” (thanks for the term, Tom). The question is: what we can do?
    If the only synonims, as Chris pointed, is Google’s main tool to escape the keyword’s dependancy in SERP? If so, just using more perfect, more “refined” copywriting may probably help…
    But actually I can’t imagine, for example, how Google can rank, say, websites of different dental offices in the same area if not based on texts they have – every site has almost the same content -and what else could they have? The same about any local business…

  • http://www.dbugking.com/ Donald V Dunham

    As soon as they started censoring I considered It over.

  • http://www.grazinimarketing.com Eva

    I think this will be interesting because they (big G) are trying to cut out the affiliate sites (aka – middle man). But I have to think that all those little sites that used to draw traffic and make major Adsense/Adwords money for Google will NOT be worth Google cutting them off and “giving” money directly to the merchants on the first click. After all, isn’t that why Adsense was developed in the first place – as a money-maker for Google. Hummmmm – we’ll see how long it takes to reverse the algorithm – I can’t wait!

  • http://www.infowars.com Banatu

    I hate their synonym thing. I use the web mostly for research and when you’re searching for something specific, synonyms really screw it up (especially when combined with their ‘fresh’ results). Google used to be the hands-down the best research search engine, now it’s next to worthless.

    As far as providing me with answers, it won’t change my usage of other sites one bit. I don’t trust Google’s info any more than I do Wikipedia’s, and this mistrust is reinforced on an almost daily basis.

  • http://gplus.to/arnobie Arnobie

    Public, Private and Confidential, there are many alternative ways to handle them Google Products and Services. Whether for business, personal, or as a webmaster, you can easily organize them without any negative impact to you, you just need to be familiar on all Google Products and Services.

  • DC1

    If you don’t like it – don’t use it. These negative comments on Google always come from people who over rely in Google to generate traffic. If your business is suffering because you have put all of your eggs in on basket (so to speak) – don’t blame a search engine. Find other ways of generating business. Unless of course your site was designed specifically to generate traffic using Google, in which case – the risk was there from the beginning. I’m sick of people Google-Bashing just because they lack imagination.

  • http://www.tipsinablog.com Danny

    This is quite interesting information, Chris.

    I have noticed a big difference in the way search results are being returned, and also in the way my own pages are ranking( or not ranking).

    From my own experience, Keyword Relevance has definatley been affected, regarding the level of importance.

    There seems to have been a huge shift in some respects.

    Then again, Content relevance has always figured in many of Google’s previous Algorithm updates….(As has quality content)…

  • Robert Sumner

    No, I think Google should had kept the yesteryear News search. Now where has it gone to?

  • Nicholas

    I still click through to 3rd party sites because I feel that Google is scraping info from other sites and the instant info Google displays could be inaccurate. I prefer to see baseball scores from MLB.com, not Google.

  • http://www.hispacar.com/car-hire/barcelona/ www.hispacar.com

    The better Google gets in keeping people within their own circle of products and companies, the more webmasters should worry about these new developments.

  • http://www.onlinetv.us Randy Penn

    Google was hardly ever a real search engine. It is the largest webfarm affiliate program (adsense affiliate webfarm sites) based on advertising on the Internet and working hard to get rid of the sites giving information as it will give that information to users for themselves.

    I fell on these months ago when I looked for my friendly conversion site to figure out ounces to liters. The site I was looking for was under the answer google gives right below the advert. Yahoo and Google have been taking sales from sales sites for a long time too.

    If you think you want to keep supporting this effort then keep at their beck and call so they can get the information the way they want it as they serve up search queries for themselves. Evil? Is there another definition fits better?

  • http://arteyesindia.com arteyesindia

    plz i wont to my website 1st page on the Google.com

  • Jim

    Google can’t go too far with this because their #1 source of revenue is advertising and if they don’t send people to websites, they won’t make money on the ads, so they have to walk softly in this area.

  • MM

    You entirely missing the point with this article. You try to make a case for the three ways that Google is getting better at not sending users to third party sites. And it seems that you do this under the guise of explaining how this may affect SEO. However, you completely fail to mention that the reason they do anything is to increase revenue. They state that all of the updates they have done have not been done to make searches more relevant, and you seem to have accepted that assumption without question. However, with little research at all, you would find that thousands and thousands of small companies have been negatively affected by the searches with no way to recover. Based on this and other articles that you have written, it seems you would explain this away as part of the process of decreasing spam and increasing better search results—and if some legitimate companies have been hurt in the fallout they just need to make some small changes to increase their rankings. The truth is that there are plenty of indications that Google is trying to force legitimate companies out of SEO results so that they will have to pay using PPC. But somehow I don’t expect we will see that story written here, because that would take real reporting—not just a rewrite of their press release.

  • http://www.makemoneyteam.com Raymond

    Google just keeps buying up more companies and then those companies mysteriously rank well in Google while some “little guys site” goes down in flames. They swear this is not the case, but those “little guys” will tell you it is. Further, I believe they wish to keep the little guy from having any reliable way to outrank them, that’s why the big crackdown on link-building. To quote the ex-Pink Floyd member Rodger Waters “it all makes perfect sense when you think of it in dollars and cents”. I think if they keep going in the direction they are heading the feds will end up declaring them a monopoly and forcing them to restructure into several companies.