TORONTO -- At the beginning of the Web era, many search queries were only a few keywords in length. Times change, and Web users are now searching by using longer queries of more than three words.
As Web searching habits are changing, so is search engine giant Google -- with serious implications for how businesses' sites are ranked as well.
At a keynote presentation at the Search Engine Strategies (SES) Toronto conference, Maile Ohye, senior developer programs engineer at Google, explained how Google's "May Day" update -- which actually began impacting search results on April 28 -- changed the way Google indexes so-called 'long-tail" queries, in which a user enters multiple keywords for a search.
The impact of the May Day update has caused the displacement of countless numbers of websites from Google's search index as the relevancy algorithms changed. But Ohye explained to the capacity crowd that Google does hundreds of updates to its search algorithms every year, and that the May Day update was a necessary one to better tackle the long tail of search.
"Some people weren't developing quality content on long search terms," she said. "It wasn't a violation of our guidelines, but it wasn't what we wanted. So for long-tail queries, we now just consider them as all other queries and place as much value on them as we do into shorter queries."
Ohye added that simply having boilerplate copy -- even for longer length keyword searches -- isn't acceptable on websites, as users still want relevance.
"In a nutshell, content is king," Ohye said, adding that the May Day update was just one of many updates Google is working on to improve the relevancy of its algorithm for ranking long-tail content queries.
May Day Versus Caffeine
The May Day update came just ahead of Google's recent Caffeine update to its overall infrastructure, and while both can have a dramatic impact on search rankings, the two efforts differ significantly.
Ohye explained that May Day is a pure ranking change effort to make long-tail queries more relevant, whereas Caffeine is about the actual indexing infrastructure: With Caffeine, Google can take its Web index and have the ability to update one document at time.
As an analogy, Ohye said that before Caffeine, updating the index was like having to do a full load of laundry. With Caffeine, she said, it's like having the ability to wash just a single shirt.
"Caffeine increases document freshness by at least 50 percent," Ohye said. "On a per-document basis, we can now attach more metadata, which provides a deeper way to look at content and can lead to ranking updates more quickly for Google."
Metadata and Social Links in SEO
On the topic of metadata, Ohye said that Google is now once again pulling its search index descriptions, or snippets, from website metadata description information. Ohye noted that for several years, Google considered metatags as a spam technique, but are now again considering meta description information when determining overall search relevancy.
She also addressed how an organization's use of social media to help promote their search engine ranking might help, but it's not the primary route to get better rankings
"It's great to have a Twitter account and a blog to attract readers," Ohye said. "But right now, it's better for webmasters to prioritize and having a great website first."
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