39 SEO changes Google made in May 2012
May was a month when Google made a lot fewer changes than the previous months but they were deeply important ones.


01. Deeper detection of hacked pages. [launch codename "GPGB", project codename "Page Quality"] For some time now Google has been detecting defaced content on hacked pages and presenting a notice on search results reading, “This site may be compromised.” In the past, this algorithm has focused exclusively on homepages, but now we’ve noticed hacking incidents are growing more common on deeper pages on particular sites, so we’re expanding to these deeper pages.

What it means: Google is focused on end-user quality. Hacked websites compromise this and affect the perceived quality of the Google search results. Google has been getting better and better at detecting hacked pages and warning website visitors and webamsters.

02. Autocomplete predictions used as refinements. [launch codename "Alaska", project codename “Refinements”] When a user types a search she’ll see a number of predictions beneath the search box. After she hits “Enter”, the results page may also include related searches or "refinements". With this change, we’re beginning to include some especially useful predictions as “Related searches” on the results page.

What it means: Google is busy refining the search through accumulated search data. It is quite possible that the social signal is also informing this as Google reaches for greater relevancy and a greater capture of the online search time.

03. More predictions for Japanese users. [project codename "Autocomplete"] Our usability testing suggests that Japanese users prefer more autocomplete predictions than users in other locales. Because of this, we’ve expanded the number or predictions shown in Japan to as many as eight (when Instant is on).

What it means: In the last iteration of changes Google focused on foreign language search quality and refinements. The company continues to look at improving the Google search experience globally and Japan in particular, where Google is not doing as well as in other countries.

04. Improvements to autocomplete on Mobile. [launch codename "Lookahead", project codename "Mobile"] We made an improvement to make predictions work faster on mobile networks through more aggressive caching.

What it means: Mobile search is an area which Google pioneered, currently enjoys an almost stranglehold in and wants to pull ahead of any future competition. Improvements in this area will come thick and fast in the coming months.

05. Fewer arbitrary predictions. [launch codename "Axis5", project codename "Autocomplete"] This launch makes it less likely you’ll see low-quality predictions in autocomplete.

What it means: The auto-complete function in search has been recoded to draw data from much more relevant search data subsets.

06. Improved IME in autocomplete. [launch codename "ime9", project codename "Translation and Internationalization"] This change improves handling of input method editors (IMEs) in autocomplete, including support for caps lock and better handling of inputs based on user language.

What it means: The user-experience, again, as a guide is leading Google to fine-tune the autocomplete suggestions in search which were thrown either by input language peculiarities or user-generated issues such as mixing capitals with lower case letters and so on.

07. New segmenters for Asian languages. [launch codename "BeautifulMind"] Speech segmentation is about finding the boundaries between words or parts of words. We updated the segmenters for three asian languages: Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, to better understand the meaning of text in these languages. We’ll continue to update and improve our algorithm for segmentation.

What it means: Google’s focus on establishing accuracy in non-English speaking countries continues unabated.

08. Scoring and infrastructure improvements for Google Books pages in Universal Search.[launch codename “Utgo”, project codename “Indexing”] This launch transitions the billions of pages of scanned books to a unified serving and scoring infrastructure with web search. This is an efficiency, comprehensiveness and quality change that provides significant savings in CPU usage while improving the quality of search results.

What it means: Google’s book search has been updated. This is part of an overall drive to develop quality in search across everyone of Google’s properties.

09. Unified Soccer feature. [project codename "Answers"] This change unifies the soccer search feature experience across leagues in Spain, England, Germany and Italy, providing scores and scheduling information right on the search result page.

What it means: This is part of Google’s expanding semantic search drive which creates answers to your questions directly on the search page. Google has been expanding the computational power of its search with a view to making a complete transition when it’s ready.

10. Improvements to NBA search feature. [project codename "Answers"] This launch makes it so we’ll more often return relevant NBA scores and information right at the top of your search results. Try searching for [nba playoffs] or [heat games].

What it means: Google’s semantic search results pages, again. More computational, right on the search page answers to your search queries.

11. New Golf search feature. [project codename "Answers"] This change introduces a new search feature for the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and PGA Tour, including information about tour matches and golfers. Try searching for [tiger woods] or [2012 pga schedule].

What it means: Google’s ever-expanding knowledge graph, now an integral part of its semantic search index, is focused on popular subjects because it knows that there it will gain the most in terms of impact and it will also have a sufficiently large volume of searches to actually draw meaningful data from in order to make improvements.

12. Improvements to ranking for news results. [project codename "News"] This change improves signals we use to rank news content in our main search results. In particular, this change helps you discover news content more quickly than before.

What it means: Google’s real-time search and near real-time search have been of questionable quality of late. The need to return relevant results of just-breaking news on Google search has presented challenges which the search company is beginning to meet. If you run a news website you should expect more frequent crawls and better placement in relevant searches.

13. Better application of inorganic backlinks signals. [launch codename "improv-fix", project codename "Page Quality"] We have algorithms in place designed to detect a variety of link schemes, a common spam technique. This change ensures we’re using those signals appropriately in the rest of our ranking.

What it means: Google’s Penguin Update was all about penalising websites which had in place unnatural linking schemes or had unnatural linking patterns. Google continues to monitor linking patterns and mark any anomalies it finds which exceed its organic, accepted ‘norm’ for further attention.

14. Improvements to Penguin. [launch codename "twref2", project codename "Page Quality"] This month we rolled out a couple minor tweaks to improve signals and refresh the data used by the penguin algorithm.

What it means: The Google Penguin Update was so aggressive that it also caught a large number of legitimate websites in its sweep. We have seen now the recovery of some of them. Although Google has maintained that its Penguin Update has worked exactly as intended and that there are few possibilities of ‘softening’ its stance, it does appear that the refinements will benefit some of those hit who did not deserve to and will probably further punish spam websites.

15. Trigger alt title when HTML title is truncated. [launch codename "tomwaits", project codename "Snippets"] We have algorithms designed to present the best possible result titles. This change will show a more succinct title for results where the current title is so long that it gets truncated. We’ll only do this when the new, shorter title is just as accurate as the old one.

What it means: Long titles which get cut off by character limitations on the display of the search page, affect the click through rate (CTR) and the end-user experience. Google has been addressing this for some time now through snippets and this is yet another example of it doing so. Your page titles, ideally, should be short enough to appear whole in search. When that is not possible (and there are some instances when long, descriptive titles work best) you should provide all the on-page optimization elements required to make it easier for Google to present a title in search which will work for your page.

16. Efficiency improvements in alternative title generation. [launch codename "TopOfTheRock", project codename "Snippets"] With this change we’ve improved the efficiency of title generation systems, leading to significant savings in cpu usage and a more focused set of titles actually shown in search results.

What it means: Google search is getting faster and faster. This is yet another refinement helping improve the end-user experience.

17. Better demotion of boilerplate anchors in alternate title generation. [launch codename "otisredding", project codename "Snippets"] When presenting titles in search results, we want to avoid boilerplate copy that doesn’t describe the page accurately, such as “Go Back.” This change helps improve titles by avoiding these less useful bits of text.

What it means: Google is taking increasing liberties with website content with a view to improve the end user experience. The practical upshot of this is that even websites which are not optimized very well will benefit from it. The caveat here is that Google may be looking very carefully at click through rate (CTR) scores of these websites with a view to form a better opinion of how ‘good’ they are. If the CTR scores are low chances are they will be deprecated a little with the next update.

18. Internationalizing music rich snippets. [launch codename "the kids are disco dancing", project codename "Snippets"] Music rich snippets enable webmasters to mark up their pages so users can more easily discover pages in the search results where you can listen to or preview songs. The feature launched originally on google.com, but this month we enabled music rich snippets for the rest of the world.

What it means: Websites in the entertainment industry which serve music now benefit directly across every Google Index with this update.

19. Music rich snippets on mobile. [project codename "Snippets"] With this change we’ve turned on music rich snippets for mobile devices, making it easier for users to find songs and albums when they’re on the go.

What it means: Mobile search, these days, gets the same high-quality treatment that Google reserved for its desktop users. The practical takeaway here is that mobile search is just as important and if you are not thinking about it and your website now, you will find yourself falling behind.

20. Improvement to SafeSearch goes international. [launch codename "GentleWorld", project codename "SafeSearch"] This change internationalizes an algorithm designed to handle results on the borderline between adult and general content.

What it means: Google’s Safe Search has been getting more refined recently allowing the search engine to differentiate between content that is adult-themed and content which is not, but approaches the borderline, with a higher degree of accuracy, which means more searches served. This has now been rolled out globally in a much shorter time than in the past. Google has been speeding up its roll-out time from its .com search domain to its international domains and indices.

21. Simplification of term-scoring algorithms. [launch codename "ROLL", project codename "Query Understanding"] This change simplifies some of our code at a minimal cost in quality. This is part of a larger effort to improve code readability.

What it means: The simplification of search term scoring will probably serve search a little faster on the search results page. Again, notice the focus on the end-user experience, even where microseconds are involved and the emphasis that Google places on speed.

22. Fading results to white for Google Instant. [project codename "Google Instant"] We made a minor user experience improvement to Google Instant. With this change, we introduced a subtle fade animation when going from a page with results to a page without.

What it means: This is an improvement to the user interface (UI). Although this does not affect search it is important. Google has, of late, being busy creating a much better UI experience for users. Icons, fade techniques and smoother transitions are a sign that Google is finally adding a layer of style over its trademark functionality.

23. Better detection of major new events. [project codename "Freshness"] This change helps ensure that Google can return fresh web results in realtime seconds after a major event occurs.

What it means: This is part of Google’s update of news indexing and a refinement of its real-time search. It only affects websites which deliver near real-time news.

24. Smoother ranking functions for freshness. [launch codename "flsp", project codename "Freshness"] This change replaces a number of thresholds used for identifying fresh documents with more continuous functions.

What it means: The “fresh documents” function also benefits websites which have regularly updated content and deliver new pages on popular subjects.

25. Better detection of searches looking for fresh content. [launch codename "Pineapples", project codename "Freshness"] This change introduces a brand new classifier to help detect searches that are likely looking for fresh content.

What it means: This is an addition to the project codename “Freshness” above. This sensitization of search to breaking news is a clear indication of Google’s focus on relevancy in search even within the challenging, real-time context.

26. Freshness algorithm simplifications. [launch codename “febofu", project codename "Freshness"] This month we rolled out a simplification to our freshness algorithms, which will make it easier to understand bugs and tune signals.

What it means: This is in step with the development mentioned above.

27. Updates to +Pages in right-hand panel. [project codename “Social Search”] We improved our signals for identifying relevant +Pages to show in the right-hand panel.

What it means: Google’s social search is a really big deal. It is using an increasingly nuanced social signal to deliver personalized results based upon the end-user’s social connections. My guess is that in the months ahead we will see more and more refinement here. From a practical point of view it affects the way you market your website in terms of socialising its content.

28. Performance optimizations in our ranking algorithm. [launch codename "DropSmallCFeature"] This launch significantly improves the efficiency of our scoring infrastructure with minimal impact on the quality of our results.

What it means: Google’s scoring of documents and pages affects ranking in search. The way Google scores websites is subject to constant updates. This is one of them.

29. Simpler logic for serving results from diverse domains. [launch codename "hc1", project codename "Other Ranking Components"] We have algorithms to help return a diverse set of domains when relevant to the user query. This change simplifies the logic behind those algorithms.

What it means: This is part of Google’s ability to detect localised settings specific to the end-user and help refine the search results, based upon where they are and what they do. Evidence, if any were needed, that Google’s localisation drive is far from over.

30. Precise location option on tablet. [project codename “Mobile”] For a while you've had the option to choose to get personalized search results relevant to your more precise location on mobile. This month we expanded that choice to tablet. You’ll see the link at the bottom of the homepage and a button above local search results.

What it means: This change is important. Google has been looking at localisation since 2010 and with this change it now refines its localisation and personalisation drive, based upon mobile search signals even more, and expands it to the tablet.

31. Improvements to local search on tablet. [project codename “Mobile”] Similar to the changes we released on mobile this month, we also improved local search on tablet as well. Now you can more easily expand a local result to see more details about the place. After tapping the reviews link in local results, you’ll find details such as a map, reviews, menu links, reservation links, open hours and more.

What it means: Google has accumulated a lot of data on tablet use and has evidence that tablet search is key to driving traffic and sales to retailers. It has even coined a new term for this called ZMOT (Zero Moment of Truth) to mark the moment when the sales process starts. For webmasters this is a clear call to optimize websites for fast delivery on tablets and smartphones and include all the data necessary to take advantage of Google’s local search function.

32. Internationalization of “recent” search feature on mobile. [project codename "Mobile"] This month we expanded the “recent” search feature on mobile to new languages and regions.

What it means: Recent searches on mobile are an end-user refinement which allows those who use mobile search to revisit, in a click, their recent searches. Mobile search continues to drive business and traffic to local retailers and the important point to remember here is that websites need to be optimised for mobile search.

33. The Knowledge Graph

What it means: Google’s Knowledge Graph is a fundamental change in the way Google collects and then assesses information. Its Knowledge Graph development is part of the Google Semantic Search initiative and it brings together all the different strands of information Google collects about its users. The company could not do this until it had re-written its privacy rules to allow the sharing of data of all its different properties. This has now happened and we are beginning to see the introduction of two major Google metrics: AuthorityRank and TrustRank. Bottom line here is that if you are serious about your website being found you need to create as much information about it as possible and make sure it is all easy to index. You also need to have a fully filled-out profile of yourself in social media verticals, all pointing back to your website.

34. Better search in mainland China

What it means: Google has a love-hate relationship with China, or rather with its regime. Last month the company provided tools allowing the Chinese people to bypass web censorship imposed by their government. It continues to improve its Chinese search index.

35. Notification of DNSChanger Malware

What it means: Google has had a means of detecting sites which serve malware for some time now. The company is increasing its alert to the end-user procedures.

36. Google+ Local

What it means: In May Google retired its Google Places initiative and introduced Google+ Local, applying its social layer to Google places and making full use of the social signal and social connection in a local search setting. If you are not on G+ or Google Local and you have a local based business, you are now seriously disadvantaged.

37. Improvements to mobile local search

What it means: Mobile local search is only going to become more important. It is already driving an increasing percentage of traffic to websites. Google recently weighed in on the side of responsive design for websites, regarding mobile search. If your site is not optimised for mobile search you are being left behind.

38. Google Maps for mobile 6.7

What it means: Google is working hard to make mobile search a seamless, effortless experience that simply works to deliver amazing results. I stress here, again, the need for websites to be optimized for local search when they represent a bricks & mortar business.

39. Updated Search App for iPhone

What it means: Google’s relationship with Apple is one of the hardest to decipher. Apple uses Google products as long as it enhances the end-user experience of its own customers but works at odds with Google to put in place alternative products which lock those customers into Apple’s walled garden. Just this month Apple stopped using Google Maps, for instance, and has now got its own product in place. Nevertheless, where the iPhone environment is concerned, Google does not allow it to slip from its sights.


This is perhaps the first month where Google’s announcement of all its search engine changes can be summarised in a few sentences. In many ways there is nothing new. Google continues to work on the three-pronged personalisation, localisation and socialisation I mentioned at the start of last year. Mobile search is becoming increasingly important and may well also act as a ranking signal for some websites and the Knowledge Graph is bringing it all together.

For webmasters looking for magic answers in this post, there are none. You should still be focused on creating quality content and have your website appear in as many different access points (mobile search, local search, social search etc) as possible.

The one new thing which is the direct result of Google’s Semantic Search is that now you also need to start building your own brand alongside that of your website, through social media network activity.

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