Google’s March Updates: Anchor Text, Image Search, Navigational Search & More
Google’s latest round of search quality updates is now available, and — at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old SEO — this month’s seems even more difficult to grasp than normal. There are a lot of words in this month’s list of 50 changes, but it appears to me that there’s not really a lot of explanation.
So be it, though. The monthly updates are a welcome thing from Google’s search team, and they’re always good to get discussion and speculation going.
With that in mind, here are a few of the items that stand out to me on first perusal of Google’s blog post.
Anchor Text Tweaks
There are two items on the list that make specific reference to how Google processes anchor text. Here they are, word-for-word from the announcement:
Tweaks to handling of anchor text. [launch codename “PC”] This month we turned off a classifier related to anchor text (the visible text appearing in links). Our experimental data suggested that other methods of anchor processing had greater success, so turning off this component made our scoring cleaner and more robust.
Better interpretation and use of anchor text. We’ve improved systems we use to interpret and use anchor text, and determine how relevant a given anchor might be for a given query and website.
The first mentions a specific classifier (i.e., signal) that’s been turned off; the second mentions a new way (signals?) for determining anchor text relevance.
Your guess is as good as mine re: what exactly that means. Comments are open if you want to speculate or tell us (and other readers) what you’ve noticed lately regarding links and anchor text.
Image Search Changes
There are also a couple items related to image search, and more specifically related to the quality of the pages on which images appear:
More relevant image search results. [launch codename “Lice”] This change tunes signals we use related to landing page quality for images. This makes it more likely that you’ll find highly relevant images, even if those images are on pages that are lower quality.
Improvements to Image Search relevance. [launch codename “sib”] We’ve updated signals to better promote reasonably sized images on high-quality landing pages.
In one case, lower quality pages are rewarded; in the other, “reasonably sized” (I read that as “smaller”) images on better quality pages are rewarded. I think.
Google is no longer ignoring several punctuation marks and symbols. As the owner of a website whose name begins with the @ symbol, I love this one. (It used to be that searches for “@U2” led to the official site, U2.com, not my independent site.)
Improvements to handling of symbols for indexing. [launch codename “Deep Maroon”] We generally ignore punctuation symbols in queries. Based on analysis of our query stream, we’ve now started to index the following heavily used symbols: “%”, “$”, “\”, “.”, “@”, “#”, and “+”. We’ll continue to index more symbols as usage warrants.
I would think this will also benefit searches for Twitter usernames, for example. And maybe hashtags? Haven’t checked on that. Feel free to ignore me.
There are a pair of updates regarding navigational queries:
Improvements to results for navigational queries. [launch codename “IceMan5”] A “navigational query” is a search where it looks like the user is looking to navigate to a particular website, such as [New York Times] or [wikipedia.org]. While these searches may seem straightforward, there are still challenges to serving the best results. For example, what if the user doesn’t actually know the right URL? What if the URL they’re searching for seems to be a parked domain (with no content)? This change improves results for this kind of search.
Better handling of queries with both navigational and local intent. [launch codename “ShieldsUp”] Some queries have both local intent and are very navigational (directed towards a particular website). This change improves the balance of results we show, and helps ensure you’ll find highly relevant navigational results or local results towards the top of the page as appropriate for your query.
On that second one, I did a search for the word “twigs.” When my location was set local to my hometown, Google showed results for a local restaurant named Twigs at the top of the results page. When I changed my location to New York City, it showed an East Village hair salon named Twigs. Results related to actual twigs (branches) were further down the page. If that’s what they’re referring to, this is an interesting change.
Other Changes Worth Reading Closely
Here are a few other things that caught my eye:
More accurate short answers. [project codename “Porky Pig”] We’ve updated the sources behind our short answers feature to rely on data from Freebase. This improves accuracy and makes it easier to fix bugs.
Improvements to freshness. [launch codename “Abacus”, project codename “Freshness”] We launched an improvement to freshness late last year that was very helpful, but it cost significant machine resources. At the time we decided to roll out the change only for news-related traffic. This month we rolled it out for all queries.
Better indexing of profile pages. [launch codename “Prof-2”] This change improves the comprehensiveness of public profile pages in our index from more than two-hundred social sites.
There are also several updates related to synonyms and universal search results.
But what stood out to you as you read through the 50 search updates for March? Comments are open.