Yesterday Google shared their monthly blog post outlining all of the algorithm tweaks and changes they made in the past month. According to yesterday’s post there were 50 changes worth noting for March 2012. I always look forward to this post from Google because it helps us stay on top of what is happening, share relevant changes with our clients and help correlate any issues with documented changes.
One particularly interesting trends I saw was lots of changes to how Google works with synonyms. If you’ve been reading the O’Rourke blog over the last month you might remember the post where we wondered why Google thinks Hotels and Hospitality are synonyms. Maybe Google is reading our stuff! Here are the specific changes they made related to synonyms and they provide some interesting points on how Google tries to understand language.
- Fewer undesired synonyms. [project codename “Synonyms”] When you search on Google, we often identify other search terms that might have the same meaning as what you entered in the box (synonyms) and surface results for those terms as well when it might be helpful. This month we tweaked a classifier to prevent unhelpful synonyms from being introduced as content in the results set.
- Fewer “sibling” synonyms. [launch codename “Gemini”, project codename “Synonyms”] One of the main signals we look at to identify synonyms is context. For example, if the word “cat” often appears next to the term “pet” and “furry,” and so does the word “kitten”, our algorithms may guess that “cat” and “kitten” have similar meanings. The problem is that sometimes this method will introduce “synonyms” that actually are different entities in the same category. To continue the example, dogs are also “furry pets” — so sometimes “dog” may be incorrectly introduced as a synonym for “cat”. We’ve been working for some time to appropriately ferret out these “sibling” synonyms, and our latest system is more maintainable, updatable, debuggable, and extensible to other systems.
- Better synonym accuracy and performance. [project codename “Synonyms”] We’ve made further improvements to our synonyms system by eliminating duplicate logic. We’ve also found ways to more accurately identify appropriate synonyms in cases where there are multiple synonym candidates with different contexts.
- Less aggressive synonyms. [launch codename “zilong”, project codename “Synonyms”] We’ve heard feedback from users that sometimes our algorithms are too aggressive at incorporating search results for other terms. The underlying cause is often our synonym system, which will include results for other terms in many cases. This change makes our synonym system less aggressive in the way it incorporates results for other query terms, putting greater weight on the original user query.
Synonym changes aside this post is to remind everyone at how complex and fluid the search landscape is. Search is constantly changing and Google is always striving to identify and implement changes that will make their results better. Keep this in mind when you are out there checking search results and comparing your results to your competitors. First and foremost, what you see in search results could vary greatly from what others are seeing. Secondly, with all of these changes and tweaks happening everyday what you are seeing currently might not be what you see tomorrow.
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