Google’s May Updates: Inorganic Backlinks, Page Titles, Fresh Results & More
Google’s latest batch of search quality updates is online, and offers some insight into a variety of search- and SEO-related topics.
Though some of Google’s monthly updates have included more than 50 items, this one comes in at 39. But it looks like there’s still plenty to digest.
Here’s a look at what stands out for me after a first read of Google’s blog post.
Inorganic Backlinks & Penguin
There are two items that would appear to be closely related to one another:
Better application of inorganic backlinks signals. [launch codename "improv-fix", project codename "Page Quality"] We have algorithms in place designed to detect a variety of link schemes, a common spam technique. This change ensures we’re using those signals appropriately in the rest of our ranking.
Improvements to Penguin. [launch codename "twref2", project codename "Page Quality"] This month we rolled out a couple minor tweaks to improve signals and refresh the data used by the penguin algorithm.
The fact that they’re listed separately suggests that the item about “inorganic backlinks” is not actually part of the Penguin algorithm. So what does the first item mean? I think Google might be saying that the signals it uses to detect link-related spam/schemes have been “appropriately” applied to other parts of the ranking algorithm, perhaps to help detect other types of spam/schemes. The wording isn’t clear, which is pretty much par for the course with these monthly updates. (I envision the search quality and webspam teams reading my recaps and your comments and chuckling at our attempts to figure this stuff out.)
A friend emailed me a week or so ago to ask what was going on with Google changing and editing his company’s page titles in the search results. I mentioned that Google had discussed this back in January, and that I was unaware of anything new.
How wrong I was. Google lists three changes in May related to how it displays page titles:
Trigger alt title when HTML title is truncated. [launch codename "tomwaits", project codename "Snippets"] We have algorithms designed to present the best possible result titles. This change will show a more succinct title for results where the current title is so long that it gets truncated. We’ll only do this when the new, shorter title is just as accurate as the old one.
Efficiency improvements in alternative title generation. [launch codename "TopOfTheRock", project codename "Snippets"] With this change we’ve improved the efficiency of title generation systems, leading to significant savings in cpu usage and a more focused set of titles actually shown in search results.
Better demotion of boilerplate anchors in alternate title generation. [launch codename "otisredding", project codename "Snippets"] When presenting titles in search results, we want to avoid boilerplate copy that doesn’t describe the page accurately, such as “Go Back.” This change helps improve titles by avoiding these less useful bits of text.
The first item there is what my friend was emailing about. Pages that had two-to-three long-tail keywords in the page title were being edited, and Google was displaying only the first keyword phrase in its search results. This was for an e-commerce site that sells items which can be described in a few different ways; Google apparently didn’t like seeing several keyword phrases in its search results.
Not sure if fresh content and fresh search results are important to Google? I’m pretty certain that every monthly update Google has published (they began back in November) has included something related to trying to make search results fresher. Keep that in mind. Here are the four freshness-related changes announced today:
Better detection of major new events. [project codename "Freshness"] This change helps ensure that Google can return fresh web results in realtime seconds after a major event occurs.
Smoother ranking functions for freshness. [launch codename "flsp", project codename "Freshness"] This change replaces a number of thresholds used for identifying fresh documents with more continuous functions.
Better detection of searches looking for fresh content. [launch codename "Pineapples", project codename "Freshness"] This change introduces a brand new classifier to help detect searches that are likely looking for fresh content.
Freshness algorithm simplifications. [launch codename "febofu", project codename "Freshness"] This month we rolled out a simplification to our freshness algorithms, which will make it easier to understand bugs and tune signals.
In addition to the above, there are several items related to Google’s Autocomplete feature, including one which will show some Autocomplete suggestions as “Related Searches” within the search results page and another that aims to reduce “low-quality predictions” from Autocomplete.
Also look for several items related to how and when sports-related answers are displayed, including showing such answers more often.
And the very first item on Google’s list, called “Deeper detection of hacked pages,” indicates that hacking notices are now showing up on deeper, internal pages that may be compromised, not just when the home page URL appears in search results.
Your turn: What items in Google’s post caught your eye? Comments are open.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)
Everything you need to know about SEO, delivered every Thursday.