This week marks the 20th anniversary of Google, the digital search platform that has become synonymous with information gathering.
It's hard to imagine a world without Google on hand now, particularly given the growth of smartphones, providing the capacity to search anything at any time, helping with product research, location information and settling friendly debates.
To mark the occasion, Google has announced a range of updates to its search tools, each with varying degrees of SEO relevance. Here's a summary of what's been announced, and what they mean for your digital strategy.
First off, Google's adding a new listing of previously related searches via new Activity Cards.
As explained by Google:
"When you revisit a query related to a task you've started in the past, we’ll show you a card with relevant pages you’ve already visited and previous queries you’ve done on this topic. This helps you retrace your steps when you might not remember which sites had that useful information you’d found earlier."
Google says it will only show these cards 'when it’s useful', they won’t appear for every search. Users will also have full control over when they appear via the app.
From an SEO perspective, this likely doesn't change a heap, though it may provide extra opportunity for exposure to previous website visitors. It does underline the need to understand what types of information users are searching for in relation to your business, and tapping into those search paths could provide additional ways to attract interested users through repeated touches.
Google's also updating its 'Collections' tool, which enables you to keep track of content you’ve previously visited, so you can easily get back to it at a later stage.
The new Collections will include content suggestions "to help you explore topics further, based on the other content you’ve saved and things you’ve searched for" (you can see the 'Recommended for you' prompt at the bottom of the first screenshot, leading into the second. Google will also enable users to add content from an Activity Card direct to a Collection, making it easier to keep tabs on items you've searched for.
In terms of SEO, both of these additions really underline the need to understand related search terms, and what users are really looking for from your website. The more understanding you have of why people are searching for your products, the better you can create related content that aligns with these recommendations, which can help increase exposure through the new recommendations tools.
Google will also start highlighting common subtopics within search:
"So if you’re searching for Pugs, for example, you’ll now be able to see the tabs for the most common and relevant subtopics, like breed characteristics and names, right at the top. But if you search for something else, even a different kind of dog, like Yorkshire Terriers, you’ll see options grooming tips and breed history."
Again, this underlines the importance of understanding related searches and what users are looking for. This functionality provides easier capacity for your audience to search for not only your core keywords, but also be shown quick-links (including videos) to related content.
In order for your content to show up in those quick-links, it's more critical than ever that you understand broader search context.
Google underlines this by noting that they've added a new 'Topic Layer' to its Knowledge Graph to better deliver matches based on trends and commonalities.
"The Topic Layer is built by analyzing all the content that exists on the web for a given topic and develops hundreds and thousands of subtopics. For these subtopics, we can identify the most relevant articles and videos - the ones that have shown themselves to be evergreen and continually useful, as well as fresh content on the topic. We then look at patterns to understand how these subtopics relate to each other, so we can more intelligently surface the type of content you might want to explore next"
As such, your SEO process will need to incorporate more evolving search behaviors, more contextual matches in search journeys, and provide content based on each respective stage to maximize your results.
Google's also renaming its in-app 'Feed' tool to 'Discover', and adding new ways to help uncover relevant content and trends based on your interests.
As explained by Google:
"New topic headers explain why you’re seeing a particular card in Discover, and whenever a topic catches your eye, you can dive deeper to explore more on that topic. Next to each topic name is a Discover icon, which you’ll also start to see in Search for an ever-growing set of topics. You can tap “Follow” to start seeing more about that topic in your experience."
Interestingly, Google will also look to better showcase new content, and evergreen material which may not be new to the web, but is new to you. That could provide more impetus for brands to keep their content fresh, while also working to create comprehensive content that covers all angles, increasing your opportunities for discovery via this process.
And more people will likely be using Discover too - Google says its also bringing Discover to google.com on all mobile browsers.
Now it won't be limited to the app, which could greatly expand the exposure potential through the tool.
Google will also be employing more AI-powered search tools - first, through the addition of new automatically generated Google AMP Stories on specific subjects.
The tool will pull information from Google's Knowledge Graph to generate an overview on a subject - as explained by Google:
"We’re starting today with stories about notable people - like celebrities and athletes - providing a glimpse into facts and important moments from their lives in a rich, visual format. This format lets you easily tap to the articles for more information and provides a new way to discover content from the web."
I'm not sure about the potential wider value of this option, but it does give Google a chance to showcase and refine its AI tools. When people correct a story, for example, Google can use that as a cue to update its algorithms, which may, eventually, enable Google to create its own AI-sourced news content, citing relevant resources.
Is that good for web traffic? Probably not. If the searcher has the capacity to get such insights without having to click through to the source website, that's not really helping publishers. But then again, it may give publishers more ways to win clicks when users seek addition information on a given fact.
Google's also using its AI tools to showcase potential topics of interest for searchers, based on their initial query.
"Imagine you’re planning a hiking trip to Zion National Park, and you want to check out videos of what to expect and ideas for sites to visit. Since you’ve never been there, you might not know which specific landmarks to look for when mapping out your trek. With featured videos, we take our deep understanding of the topic space (in this case, the most important landmarks in the park) and show the most relevant videos for those subtopics. For Zion National Park, you might see a video for each attraction, like Angels Landing or the Narrows. This provides a more holistic view of the video content available for a topic, and opens up new paths to discover more."
If you're a travel brand, this could be a key SEO consideration - with Google looking to showcase videos, specifically, to give searchers more context on what they might be interested in, that may make YouTube showcase videos more of a priority.
The same could extend to varying uses of search, depending on how Google chooses to implement this. It'll be worth keeping track of what types of recommendations are showing up in relation to your target keywords to see if there's a way to use video content to guide related queries.
Google also makes some interesting, SEO-relevant notes about Google Images refinements:
"Over the last year, we’ve overhauled the Google Images algorithm to rank results that have both great images and great content on the page. For starters, the authority of a web page is now a more important signal in the ranking. If you’re doing a search for DIY shelving, the site behind the image is now more likely to be a site related to DIY projects. We also prioritize fresher content, so you’re more likely to visit a site that has been updated recently."
Some key considerations there - and in addition, Google's adding more context to image search matches, and will be adding related search terms at the top of the page, already available on mobile, to desktop.
There's a heap to consider here, with an increased emphasis on content context from an SEO perspective. The key note is that Google is getting better at understanding the what and why of search queries, and is looking to provide relevant matches based on such insight. If you want to maximize your discovery potential, you need to do the same.
Google's various updates are rolling out over the next few months.