Happy 20th Birthday Google – A New Algorithm Update: Visual Search, Search Journeys, and AI-driven Results

For it’s 20th birthday, it seems fitting that Google announced its ambition to change the face of online search for the next 20 years. As a result, they have announced a paradigm shift that will change search answers to search journeys. Rather than queries, Google hopes to move to a query-less way of getting information. For example, in the style of YouTube recommended videos.

Further, Google is shifting away from text-based search to image and video search, placing more value on visual information. By changing search answers to search journeys, Google is attempting to learn what a user meant to do when they entered a specific search term.

Search intent has always been the holy grail, and Google is trying to narrow it down further by not only identifying all the kinds of searches a user can do but also the different stages in a search process. They are also acknowledging that weeks can pass during the search process. Websites, as a result, should begin matching keywords and content to intent, to ensure content fits possible searches.

As part of the paradigm shift, search journeys are now the focal point of Google’s future of search. Google will know where you are in your search journey. It will remember what you did, and where you’re most likely to go next. Google wants you to discover and consume more content, even without specifically asking for it. As a result, they are going to provide more and more content rather than just pointing you to other pages. And, of course, hopefully we’ll all be very good and visit Google Ad partners as well! So join the team at BSO as we deep dive into Google’s outline for the next 20 years of Google Search.

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Improving Search for the Next 20 Years

To quote Google, it has always been their mission to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. They index hundred of billions of pages, which is more information than all the libraries in the world. Since its inception, Google has grown to serve people all over the world, offering search in more than 150 languages in over 190 countries. This has been true since Google started with the Page Rank algorithm.

Since the Page Rank algorithm, Google sees billions of searches each day. Of these daily searches, 155 are queries never recorded before. As a result, using algorithms is the only effective way for Google to effectively provide search results. Over the next 20 years, Google aims to shift from search answers to search journeys. This will allow you to resume tasks where you left off. It is ideal for those learning new interests and hobbies. Further, Google will bring in new features to search that will help you with ongoing information needs. This means not only moving to a query-less style of search result but also a move away from text to a more visual way of finding information. And underpinning all of these features are advancements in AI.

Finally, Google is improving its ability to understand language in ways that weren’t possible when it first began. This is due to neural networks allowing Google to take a huge leap forward from understanding words to understanding concepts. This is known as neural matching. As a result, Google hopes this will dramatically improve its ability to make information more accessible and useful.

AI Driven Search

As mentioned above, AI advancement underpins all of Google’s planned search updates. Google particularly uses AI to improve its understanding of languages which will help power their new types of search. As we know, context is incredibly important in SEO. So Google has been using AI to better connect words to concept. These have been dubbed “super synonyms”. In fact, 30% of queries are affected by this type of search – known as neural matching.

We’ve now reached the point where neural networks can help us take a major leap forward from understanding words to understanding concepts…Neural embeddings, an approach developed in the field of neural networks, allow us to transform words to fuzzier representations of the underlying concepts, and then match the concepts in the query with the concepts in the document.

As a result, it is possible that a page may show up in search results without even using keywords, just by providing the right context surrounding a particular topic. Google can then match that to the query entered.

New AI powers will also drive new ways of surfacing and collecting search results – the activity tab. This will allow you to retrace your steps, collect relevant searches and also delete searches or opt out entirely if you want. Further, AI will also drive traffic to the Google News Feed on mobile which has proven to be a source of traffic for many sites. It allows Google to suggest content without intent.

AI will also be used to power a powerful search tool that can analyse photo elements. This Google Lens allows users to explore images to find details on items in images and expand their search. And the final element of AI powered search are AMP-powered stories in search results allowing publishers to serve users information via Instagram-style stories.

Search Journeys

As we have mentioned, Google is pushing the idea of “search journeys”. This means that Google will be refining the search function and algorithms so you get information faster. Further, as Google knows, searches are often related to longer sessions that span multiple days. They also know that people come back to the search for information updates on a topic.

Search Journeys will allow Google to know what point you are in your journey and deliver the content you need the most. This means that if you are just starting to learn guitar, for example, you might get search results on learning chords. However, if you are further on in learning your hobby, you might get search results for more complex song concepts.

Further, Search Journeys will allow you to explore the range of content available on a topic, in depth. For example, you might be planning a trip and looking for information about a destination over the course of a month. Or you might regularly do searches on easy dinner recipes to help you plan for meals for a week. Both of these journeys are very different and require different kinds of results. Google hopes that their new search algorithms and AI driven results will improve a user’s search journey.

Query-Less Search – Discover

Following on from Search Journeys, Google also wants to instigate the idea of “Query-less Search”. They hope to feed relevant content to users without them actually searching for it. This feature would work similarly to YouTube’s “related videos” feature, in which a user is offered videos related to others they have watched.

This function will be related to the Google Feed introduced recently. Google Feed has grown dramatically over the past years, with more than 800 million people using the feed each month to stay up to date on their interests.

With this fundamental change in how Google Feed will also be renamed to Discover. With the fresh approach and name, Discover will also have a fresh design that makes it easier for users to explore their interests. As a result, new topic headers explain why you will see a particular topic card in Discover. When a particular topic catches your eye, you can use Discover to dive deeper and explore more on that topic. You will also see the Discover icon on near the search, allowing you to tap it to see more about a particular topic.

search journeys
Image courtesy of Google

A New Topic Layer for the Knowledge Graph

Along with the changes to the search, Google will be adding a new topic layer to the Knowledge Graph. In basic terms, the search has to understand interests and how they progress over time. The Knowledge Graph was created to understand the connections between people, places, things and facts. Google has taken their existing Knowledge Graph and added a new layer called the Topic Layer.

The Topic Layer is engineered to deeply understand a topic space and how interests can develop and change overtime as a person’s familiarity and expertise grow. The Topic Layer is built by analysing all online content for a given topic. From this, it develops hundreds and thousands of subtopics. From there, Google can identify the most relevant articles and videos and deliver them to the user.

As a result, the results can then be intelligently served to the user, depending on where they are in their Search Journey.

Search Stories

Whether you like it or not, AMP is here to stay. And Google is using it to serve up a new kind of search content – Search Stories or AMP Stories. By working with the AMP Project Google is making it easy for anyone to create a story online. While this feature is still in its early stages there are many publishers and websites utilising the feature. It allows you to provide users with a more visual way to get information from search and news, in a similar style to Instagram Stories.

Further, by helping people discover visual stories, Google will also begin showing this content in Google Images and Discover. They will begin to use AI intelligently to construct AMP stories and add this content to the search. Starting now, Search Stories about notable people – like celebrities and athletes – will begin to appear. These will provide glimpses into facts and important moments from their lives in a rich visual format. As a result, it makes it easy for users to tap into articles for more information and provides a new way to discover content from the internet.

Activity Cards and Collections

Further, as part of the Search overhaul and Discover remake, Google will allow users to retrace their steps with activity cards. As we all know, retracing our steps online can be difficult. Activity Cards allow you to pick up where you left off in the Search. You can revisit a past query related to a task you’ve started in the past. It will also show a card of relevant pages already visited and previous queries you’ve done on a topic.

Further, it will intelligently show this card only when it’s useful. It won’t appear in every search and you will have total control over it. In fact, you can easily remove it from your search history, pause seeing it, or choose not to see it all together. Activity Cards will be available later this year.

You will also be able to track searches with Collections by adding content, such as a website, article or image so you can quickly get back to it later. Further, Collections experience allows you to add your content from an Activity Card directly to Collections. As a result, this makes it even easier to keep track of and organise the content you want to revisit. Collections can also offer suggestions to help explore topics further, based on content you’ve save and things you’ve searched for.

search journeys
Image courtesy of Google

Dynamic Organisation of Search Results and Evergreen Content

Google also wants to dynamically organise search results. Every Search Journey will be different, especially based on a user’s expertise on a subject. It is not always clear what the next search should be to help you learn more. As a result, Google is introducing a new way to dynamically organise search results to help you more easily determine what information to explore next, rather than presenting information within a set of predetermined categories.

Google Search will intelligently show subtopic that are most relevant to what you’re searching for, using the Topic Layer. This will make it easy to explore information within a single search. For example, a simple search for Pugs will also show Tabs for common and relevant subtopics, like Breed Characteristics. This feature continues to stay fresh and learns over time. As new content is published, the tabs will update to reflect the most relevant information. As a result, Evergreen Content will be valued more highly.

So what is Evergreen Content?

Evergreen Content, as described by Google, is new types of content in Discover. These are articles, images and videos that might not be new to the internet but are new to you. For example, when planning a trip, you might be researching the best places to eat or sights to see. So a travel article published 3 months ago is now relevant to you. However, Google will still place emphasis on the most up to date content and high-quality content with high page authority. So it pays to continue working on the content on your website.

Using Topic Layer, Discover predicts your area of expertise and delivers you the best Evergreen content. It stays one step ahead of you and helps you come across things you haven’t started looking for yet.

Control Over What You See

Users will also have more control over what they see, allowing them to customise what they see and what they are delivered. They can tap a control icon to indicate that they want more or less content on a particular topic. However they will continue to see a range of sources on any given topic. Google will also help users explore new ideas surrounding their interests. This is especially true of news and news articles where Google believes it is important that people are brought a wide range of perspectives.

Search in a Variety of Languages

Discover will also, eventually, be available in multiple languages thanks to Google’s neural network advancements. It will adapt to how people like to use the search. Even if you like to use it with multiple languages. For example, you might like watching videos in English, but reading recipes in German. As a result, you will eventually be able to see content presented in your preferred language for each language.

At the moment Google is starting with English and Spanish but they will be expanding with more options soon.

Google Homepage Mobile

As we know, the Google Homepage has always been the place to ask questions and search for the information you want. This same function will be coming to mobile. It will be made even easier to keep up with your interests with the rollout of Discover to mobile browsers as part of the new mobile homepage. As a result, you can not only search but also discover relevant information and inspiration. This will begin appearing over the next few weeks.

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Making Visual Content More Useful in Search

One of the biggest changes to search will be the updates to Google Images and visual content. Google Images first came to life in 2000 after the Grammys. Google noticed a huge upswing in searches looking for J-Lo’s infamous green dress. It was obvious that users were looking for visual results, not plain text. And from there, Google Images was created.

With the evolution of mobile devices and smaller screens, visual results have become more and more important. As a result, Google has been pushing image and video results as they are easier and faster to scan. This is why Search results will also show results including illustrated weather maps, sports clips or visual recipes.

The reason Google is able to do this is thanks to advancements in computer vision that helps extract concepts from images. This allows the algorithm and AI to model hundreds of millions of fine-grained concepts for every image and video in the Google index. For example, a tiger might generate a number of concepts including feline, animal, and big cat. This allows the identity of a picture by pixels rather than by the context of the words on the webpage.

Changes to the search over the next 20 years aims to help people better find information visually, making it easier to pursue things people visually search for such as shopping for products, styling a room, or tackling DIY projects.

Making Video Search Better – Featured Video

You will also be able to visually preview topics with featured videos in the Search as videos can be a useful way to learn about a new topic. It can be hard to find the most relevant videos to explore all different facets of a topic. Using computer vision, Google is able to deeply understand the content of a video and help users quickly find the most useful information. This will be the foundation of Featured Videos.

Further this will be ideal for search topics, like exploring specific landmarks while planning a trip. It will also list Evergreen content higher in the search results, as well as content that is shown to be continually useful. Finally, Google will use AI to study patterns to understand how subtopics relate to each other and can more intelligently surface the type of content you might want to explore next. As a result, it enables the user to experience a search that makes it easier to explore interests even when you don’t have a next search in mind.

Visual Journeys with Google Images

The final step in Google’s 20 year plan is an overhaul of Google Images and how it will work with Search Journeys. Google knows that those who come looking for information on Google Images are looking for specific visual information or help doing something, not just to see an image. Their new features will allow users to find visual information more easily and pursue activities where visual references are important. Google also realises that there may not be one right answer and that users scan a lot of images and information before find what they need. As a result, they are updating how Google Images serves image results.

Website Authority and Layout

The authority of the webpage will also be important. After all, when going to images for help on a task, the webpage is also integral to the search. So the page you visit should help you on the next step of your Search Journey. As a result, the overhauled algorithm will rank results that have both great images and great content on the page. The authority of the page will also be a highly important signal in ranking the image. If you’re looking for an image for DIY shelving, then the website behind the image should be a DIY site of some sort. It will also prioritise Evergreen content.

Further, in previous searches, if you visited a website after clicking on an image, it might have been hard to find the specific image. The new Google Image search will now prioritise sites where the image is central to the page and higher up on the page. For example, if you are looking for a specific kind of shoe, the Search will prioritise pages or product pages with the pair of shoes prominently listed over a category page with a range of shoes.

The new Google Image search will also show more context around images. Including captions that show the title of the webpage where the image is published. This is critical to helping the user understand the page behind the image and make an informed choice. Further, there will also be suggested related search terms at the top of the page for more guidance. This will also be introduced on mobile.

AI Assisted Image Search

Thanks to their updates with AI, Google will implement Google Lens with Google Images. Thus allowing the user to do more with what they see. Lens will allow users to explore and learn more about visual content they find during searches by analysing and detecting objects of interest within them. Users can select one of these objects and Lens will show them relevant images. Further, many of these will link to product pages so users can continue their search. Or buy items they might be interested in. Lens allows the user to draw on part of the screen to select an image and trigger results, and dive even deeper into what is in the image. As a result, Google hopes these changes will make it easier and more visually interesting to traverse the web to find information and pursue you interests.

If you would like professional help with your SEO and content, contact the team at BSO Digital today!

For more information, check out Google’s latest blogs on their plans for the next 20 years: