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Google Search Announcements: BERT, Passages & Subtopic Indexing & More

Google made a boat load of announcements last night around Google Search. Now, while some of the announcements were things already launched, many were new. Google covered changes to BERT, how it understands passages and subtopics on a page, to humming to Google and health and safety features and so much more.

Here is the video of these announcements if you prefer to watch over read:

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Let me quickly break down the more interesting things from this announcement that I think you all will care about.

BERT

BERT is now used on almost every English query. As you know, when it launched a year ago it was used on 10% of English queries. Google said “today we’re excited to share that BERT is now used in almost every query in English, helping you get higher quality results for your questions.”

There is nothing you can really do to optimize for this but Google should be better at understanding your content and how it related to the user’s query.

Spelling

Google said it has a new spelling algorithm that uses “a deep neural net to significantly improve our ability to decipher misspellings.” Google said this change “makes a greater improvement to spelling than all of our improvements over the last five years.” Whoa.

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I’ll use some of Glenn’s tweets because he summed up a lot of these changes nicely:

Passages

Google can now index parts of a page, a passage within all of the page’s content, instead of all of the content on a page. Previously, Google said it does not and cannot do that, but now it can. Google said “we’ve recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages.” Google said this helps them improve search queries globally, in all languages, by 7%! How, it helps them better understand the relevancy of specific passages, not just the overall page, so it can “find that needle-in-a-haystack information you’re looking for.”

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This is impressive! How can you optimize for it? Maybe make sure your passages on your pages are not a big mess?

This is probably one of the most interesting announcements – I covered this in more detail on Search Engine Land after talking to Google about this. It is worth a read.

Subtopics

Google also said it “applied neural nets to understand subtopics around an interest, which helps deliver a greater diversity of content when you search for something broad.” Google said by the end of the year it will “understand relevant subtopics, such as budget equipment, premium picks, or small space ideas, and show a wider range of content for you on the search results page.”

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Key moments expanded

Key moments, “in this video” chapters feature that launched a year or so ago, will soon be used in “10 percent of searches on Google will use this new technology,” Google said.

Popular times, COVID info and more maps

Well, I covered the issues with popular times and wait time this morning. Google talked about this over here saying “Google Maps’ popular times algorithms have long been able to identify busyness patterns for a place. With social distancing measures established and businesses adjusting hours or even closing temporarily due to COVID-19, our historical data was no longer as reliable in predicting what current conditions would be. To make our systems more nimble, we began favoring more recent data from the previous four to six weeks to quickly adapt to changing patterns for popular times and live busyness information–with plans to bring a similar approach to other features like wait times soon.”

Google also added health help for local including “live busyness information without even searching for a place” and “live busyness information for your destination when getting directions.” Plus COVID health and safety information, which we covered.

Google Lens updates

Google released a slew of updates for Google Lens searches. Including tap an image to discover products as you browse, get help with homework problems and virtually bring your dream car to your driveway.

Oh and you can hum a song:

Plus some updates to Duplex and Google Assistant.

It is a lot but SEOs are awesome at change.

Forum discussion at Twitter.

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