In this article, I will be exploring the dynamics between user and Google in the perpetually evolving online space. This includes how Google has become more autonomous and sophisticated in understanding human behavior.
With the advent of Google over 20 years ago, a new era of accessibility became available to users at their fingertips. It was with this accessibility that the internet was no longer unfamiliar territory - it became a portal of information one could navigate to find what they were looking for. But, with the emergence of Lycos, Yandex and Ask Jeeves between 1994 and 1997, there were many search engines before Google.
Although Google globally secured its position as a dominant search engine, it still made multiple revisions to its algorithm to continuously improve and provide more value to its users.
These updates ranged from ‘Caffeine’, to make search faster, to ‘Panda’, which was focussed on combating spam and content farms. These revisions were fundamental to improving search for the user inline with Google’s mission to “Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful”.
‘Hummingbird’ aimed to understand the relationship between semantic search queries and human interactions. Focusing more on natural language queries and moving away from keyword integration exemplifies how ‘finding meaning’ added a newer layer to Google’s search algorithm and the direction it was going in.
Due to Moz’s handy algorithm update chart, it is possible to see that the number of confirmed algorithm updates have steadily declined. This indicates that Google is becoming more autonomous, integrating search behavior into the fabric of the search engine’s functionality.
While Google was steadily evolving, the convenience of and intrigue created by the Internet meant that it had become a part of daily life. This soon transcended purely functional uses as it began to enter the social sphere - with the creation of Facebook and Instagram in 2004 and 2010 respectively.
Although Google followed suit in 2011 with Google+, its version of a social sharing platform, it didn’t see the same success. As Facebook and Instagram have a collective user base of over 3 billion, it’s clear to see that it would be difficult to compete with a scale of that demand. In the more recent news, Google announced that they will be closing down Google+ in the next few months due to a data leak of up to 500,000 profiles. This isn’t the only reason Google will be shutting down its services however. They explained on their Blog saying that the ‘consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds’.
Machine-learning and artificial intelligence came to the forefront in 2015 with ‘Rankbrain’ to determine where sites rank in search results whilst helping Google to process and understand search queries. This was a big move into autonomy and understanding the dynamics between user and machine which is so integral to the functionality of the search engine.
This is no small feat mind you, with the additional knowledge that user queries have changed dramatically over the years. What used to be a requirement for direct, practical information has changed with the demand for instant information for so many questions:
How do I get from A to B?
What’s going on with [insert celebrity here]?
How much to fly from Paris to Rome?
...And so on. To answer these questions, Google’s ecosystem includes News, Video, Images, Maps and so much more.
So we’ve covered WHAT people are searching...but WHERE are they searching from?
Smartphone usage has skyrocketed in the past decade and Google’s Mobile First indexing update was implemented to address this question.
Although Mobile Indexing officially started rolling out in 2018 (which some of our sites received a notification about), it was actually announced in 2015 and had a lot of webmasters rushing around trying to ensure their websites were mobile-friendly. Ensuring Google crawled the mobile version of a site before crawling the desktop version mirrors a shift in understanding the ways in which search behavior is changing. It’s this kind of reactive nature that keeps Google at the forefront of search.
In the UK alone, over 96% of all 16 to 34-year-olds have a mobile phone - with mobile users confessing to checking their mobile phones on average 28 times a day. This equates to over 10,000 times a year. That’s a lot of Mobile love!
So now that we’ve established the WHAT and the WHERE, what about the WAY that users search? Introducing: Voice Search.
Voice search launched in 2008 on Google’s mobile app and was initially named Voice Action. In 2011, it was announced that Voice Search would roll out onto Google Web. Google Voice is now a staple part of search behavior with 20% of all searches activated by voice within the Google app and Comscore predicting that 50% of all searches will be voice led on Google web by 2020.
So with all of these search innovations and developments in the Google space, who’s to say what's on the horizon for Google? I’ll tell you something though, I’ll be waiting to see what the next big thing is for the internet giant!