Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Nov. 14 peeled away another layer of the multifaceted onion that comprises its search engine by revealing 10 specific algorithm changes the company has made.
The company has traditionally closely guarded its search technology signals, or the 1,000-plus factors that help Google.com serve results at such a prodigious clip.
Yet Google is endeavoring to appear more transparent about its search technology in the face of the Federal Trade Commission's antitrust investigation into its core business. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) accused Google in a Congressional hearing in September of "cooking" its search results to favor its own products.
To wit, Google detailed 10 of the roughly 500 changes it makes each year. Specifically, Google added increased page content and decreased header and menu content for its search snippets, which are strings of text from search results to give users an idea of whether those results might be useful enough to warrant a click.
Google Search Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts, who detailed the changes in a corporate blog post, said Google is more likely to pick text from the actual page content in the future.
Google also extended rich snippets for applications, which help users searching for applications see details such as cost and reviews.
Google also improved the way it hunts for and finds "official" Web pages and changed how it handles result freshness for queries where a user has chosen a specific date range. Moreover, Cutts and his crew worked to provide better page titles in search results by de-duplicating boilerplate anchors.
"We found that boilerplate links with duplicated anchor text are not as relevant, so we are putting less emphasis on these," he said. "The result is more relevant titles that are specific to the page's content."
The company also killed a signal, retiring a factor in its Image Search related to images that contained references from multiple Web documents.
Some of the changes involved language. For queries in languages where limited Web content is available, Google is now translating English Web pages and displaying translated titles below English titles in search results. Clicking on the translated titles will take searchers to pages translated from English into the query language.
Google is doing this for Afrikaans, Malay, Slovak, Swahili, Hindi, Norwegian, Serbian, Catalan, Maltese, Macedonian, Albanian, Slovenian, Welsh and Icelandic.
Google is also providing autocomplete predictions in Russian based on length to reduce the number of "long, sometimes arbitrary query predictions in Russian," something it already does for English language results.
The search engine also made changes in how its autocomplete feature handles queries that contain non-Latin characters, such as Hebrew, Russian and Arabic.
Google also improved its ranking of fresh content, such as hot trends, current events or recurring events, a move that affects 35 percent of search results. The boost came months after Google's real-time search deal with Twitter lapsed, leaving the company deprived of tweets to surface for users.
Google, which has a 65 percent U.S. search market share, normally keeps such specific tweaks under wraps because it views its search technology as a competitive advantage over Microsoft Bing, Yahoo and other challengers.
But Google also keeps its search updates quiet to keep SEO specialists and enterprising businesses from "gaming" Google to improve their search ranking for their own marketing designs. Cutts alluded to this in a cautionary note in his blog post:
"If you're a site owner, before you go wild tuning your anchor text or thinking about your Web presence for Icelandic users, please remember that this is only a sampling of the hundreds of changes we make to our search algorithms in a given year, and even these changes may not work precisely as you'd imagine," Cutts wrote. "We've decided to publish these descriptions in part because these specific changes are less susceptible to gaming."
In other words, if you are a Website publisher looking to play an angle, use the information Cutts provided at your own risk and don't expect to benefit from a better search ranking on Google.