Last week I met with Amit Singhal, Senior VP of Search at Google and the man who along with his team are responsible for search quality development. Amit is the master of what Google calls its “ranking algorithm” — the formula that decides which web pages best answer each user’s search.
I attended his presentation in Dubai; “The Future Of Search” and caught up with Amit afterwards and posed him some questions. Whether you are an SEO agency selling Search Engine marketing services to businesses or a humble “googler” (that’s everyone) the notes I took will give you an insight in to the future of Google Search.
The evolution of Google
Google which started life as a data engine has evolved over time. Originally searches could only return data, however a Google search now provides far more useful information. Amit and the team at Google are working toward a more ‘human thinking’ search engine that will take the data found on the web, decipher, extrapolate the most relevant information and string that information together in a manner that works in the way a human mind works.
1998 – 2000 = Google returned only data results
2004 = Googles algorithm worked out how to turn data in to information
2012 (present) = The next phase, turning information in to knowledge
Future = Turning knowledge in to wisdom
For example a search in a future Google for “burger” would return the following results…
- Data = 42g fat
- Information = Thats 65% of your daily fat allowance
- Knowledge = Fat is bad for you
- Wisdom = Eat salad
Google is well on route towards their ideal search engine and are already able to answer many queries intelligently with knowledgable results. Here are a few examples. Go try them yourself…..
Q) What is the height of the Empire State Building?
Google can now answer questions not just provide results based on key phrase queries. In this example Google returns the answer right within the search results as well as suggesting other related information you may be interested in about The Empire State Building. This helps the searcher explore the topic further and find other interesting information they previously would not have found.
Q) “1 dollar in uae dirhams”
Maybe your travelling and about to make a purchase in a foreign currency. Type the currencies and amount in to Google and you will be shown the exchange rate from within the Google search interface
Googles internal motto’s;
Amit shared 2 motto’s he and his search team abide by….
”No query left behind”
“Most locally relevant results served globally”
It was clear when listening to Amit talk how passionate Google are about delivering the most relevant results for all possible questions or queries. Those results should be personalized and take in to account things like an individuals interests and location. He admitted that Google was not perfect but he and his team are in constant pursuit of the perfect search engine.
Google are focussing on mobile
Google understand that users are searching more and more using mobile devices and they expect mobile searches to overtake desktop searches in the near future. They are putting a heavy focus in this area and developing optimized search results for mobile. This includes a reformatting of results to display on smaller mobile screens and live clickable telephone numbers that initiate dialing on your mobile device.
Google authorship brings people off line reputation online
The Google authorship program was developed to combat people trying to manipulate search results. Amit said the Google team want to overcome people using outsourced article writing services to skew results. Google want to bring true off line reputation online and promote content created by true experts. He ‘suggested’ that those subscribed to the Google authorship program would be given preference in the ranking results.
The Google Knowledge Graph
Computers and for that matter the existing Google search algorithm do not understand things they understand strings; strings of code.
The old Google algorithm did not know the difference between The Taj Mahal Monument, The Taj Mahal Band, The Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant etc. To the algorithm it was the same things; 2 words “Taj Mahal”
The next phase of Google search, the Knowledge Graph developed by Amit and his team will understand the relationship between things and suggest other information in search results relating to your original query. Its strings information together to show other related information you may be interested in.
The data Knowledge Graph returns is unique to each search based on data taken from other peoples and your own search history to suggest related information that you may find interesting.
For example, if you search for “The Simpsons” and explore further on the Knowledge Graph, you will find out that creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening has parents called Marge and Homer and a sister called Lisa.
Matt Groening panel in Knowledge Graph
The Future Of Search
Google will soon make personalized suggestions based on your interests, your current location and even your future location/schedule derived from your Google calendar.
For example if you are traveling to London in 3 weeks time, and based on your browsing history Google knows you are interested in cricket, it may suggest you attend a cricket match thats taking place at Lords cricket ground on the day your calendar shows you as being free.
Personalized search results are a core belief of Google. The next phase of Googles development will see personalized information served up to you even without you searching. Their aim is to present that information to you before you had even thought of searching for it.
Top 5 is what matters
Top ten no longer matters. Amit Singhal says that it is his teams goal to ensure you find the result you are looking for in the first 5 results. He said that Google has failed you if you ever have to click on to page 2. All SEO providers will validate the importance of the top 5 results, which statistically get the vast majority of clicks.
Google like SEO companies
When I asked Amit what Google think of SEO companies i was surprised by the answer. He told me that Google praise the work of most SEO agencies as they help website owners create a website that is easily found and understood by Google. A well written website with the good page titles and navigation helps Google deliver better results to their users as they can more easily understand and index that website correctly.
He said though that a small minority of agencies “push the boundaries” in an attempt to manipulate results and that Google are always working to ensure manipulative gaming of the algorithm is stamped out. Google are passionate about delivering the best results.
Above : Amit Singhal and James Reynolds share a joke about SEO
Search Department Vs the Ads Department
Organic search results can never be bought. Amit told me how there is a wall that exists between the advertising department and the search development team, sponsored results and organic results function entirely separately. Google will never have their organic results compromised whatever someone pays their ads team. They do however use data from organic results (relevancy and quality score etc) to influence the positioning of sponsored ads and thus make sponsored ads results better and more relevant.
Amit joked though that he was very thankful to the ads team for paying his salary.
Testing and improvements to the ranking algorithm
Google make over 500 improvements to the algorithm each year. Each update goes through a strict process of testing inside a sand boxed environment (replica of the real web) whereby humans conduct an A Vs B split test to determine whether the existing algorithm or the proposed new algorithm return better results. If the proposed changes pass this initial test they are rolled out to a thin slice of real Google users and then finally to all users.
Despite stringent testing Google do occasionally get it wrong and updates to the algorithm can be reversed or changed even after they are rolled out.
Amit eluded to how Google might be developing applications that move knowledge search away from computers and hand held devices and in to our every day lives. He mentioned search results could be displayed in front of our eyes on eye glasses as we go about our daily activities. He dis not confirm whether this indeed was a product under development.
Click the image above to learn more about Amit Singhal, Head Of Search at Google
The Holy Grail
As the owner of an SEO Agency helping companies get their websites found in the search results, there was one question I just had to ask Amit Singhal;
What are the factors right now that most influence where a website will appear in the search results?
I was asking him to reveal the inner working of the algorithm he created. This was his answer….
“James, when we recruit new team members at Google there is a series of questioning we go through with the candidate in order to determine if they have what it takes to be on the Google team. We ask them to talk about their previous company, I mean really talk about their ex employer. If the potential recruit gives us any information we probably should not know they fail the interview immediately. At Google our algorithm is our most guarded thing [the holy grail], and I will never reveal that information” said Amit Singhal jokingly.
[These words are a recollected interpretation of Amit's response and not written word for word]
What do you think to Googles future direction? Please post your comments below