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A recent study published by the Yelp data science team, conducted by researchers at the Harvard Business School and Columbia Law School, suggests Google is prominently displaying its own content ahead of others in organic search results.

The study aims to prove Google’s actions are harming users by presenting them with inferior results to what they would otherwise find if all search results were displayed organically.

In order to prove this theory, researchers from Harvard and Columbia conducted a test comparing Google’s results as they’re currently being displayed, with results determined by Google’s merit-based algorithm.

Following this test, researchers came to the conclusion Google is unfairly promoting its own content ahead of content from external sources, “leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches.”

Local Searches Skewed Most Heavily

The study finds Google is most heavily pushing its own properties ahead of competitors when it comes to local intent-based searches. These searches make up over 50% of all mobile searches, and roughly a third of desktop searches.

When conducting a local search, users are most often presented with Google’s Local OneBox — a list of seven businesses with links to Google+ Local pages. However, the study contends Google’s algorithm could be used in these instances to surface better results for its local search boxes.

Through comparative testing, researchers determined consumers would prefer results surfaced from Google’s own algorithm over the results being chosen to populate the local OneBox.

This is a disservice to both consumers and merchants, the study argues, since consumers are not getting the most optimal results and merchants are missing out on opportunities to sell to them.

“From this paper one thing should be abundantly clear. The easy and widely disseminated argument that Google’s universal search always serves users and merchants is demonstrably false.”

Google Stifling Competition?

Following a randomized and controlled trial, researchers found searchers are 45% more likely to engage with local specialized results from universal search when results are determined organically.

The study cites a statement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) following an investigation into claims against the search giant. FTC’s statements back up the suggestion that Google is deliberately deploying universal search in a way that hurts competitors at the expense of consumers:

“Evidence shows that Google sought to increase such “triggering” of Universal Searh results not only to provide users with the “right” answer to their queries, but also to drive traffic to Google properties.”

For more information about these claims against Google, including full details of how the study was conducted, you can view the full SlideShare document titled “Is Google degrading search? Consumer Harm from Universal Search.”

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30% Of Search Results Are Now Https, According To Moz Study

Two years after Google announced HTTPS would become a ranking signal, Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz has put together a study with revealing new findings about the adoption rate of HTTPS since the announcement was made.

When Google made its official announcement regarding HTTPS, some were quick to make the transition, while others believed the effort wasn’t worth the potential reward. Some have avoiding transitioning to HTTPS because they believe there are possible risks associated with doing so.

Dr. Pete Meyers has put together the data which suggests Google is slowing but surely accomplishing its goal of having more HTTPS sites on the web. Here is a summary of his finding.

The Findings

Before Google’s HTTPS algorithm update, Moz’s data showed that only 7% of the pages featured on the first page of Google’s search results were HTTPS. A week later, that number rose to 8%.

Two years later, that number has multiplied to over 30%:

Dr. Meyers predicts than in a another 1–1.5 years we will 50% of first page search results being comprised of HTTPS sites. When this time comes, Dr. Meyers also predicts that Google will strengthen the ranking signal.

The Risks

Google has been downplaying the risks of migrating to HTTPS, Dr. Meyers argues, as there is risk associated with any kind of sitewide change to URLs.

Before migrating to HTTPS, it’s recommended that you weigh the time, money, and possible risk against receiving a minor algorithmic boost. With that being said it’s still difficult to convince website owners that converting to HTTPS is worth it.

Dr. Meyers’ final recommendation is, if you’re still not sold on HTTPS, then at least be aware of how many sites in your industry are making the switch. Stay alert for another HTTPS algorithm update which could be coming within a year’s time.

Google Launches Free Deals Listings In Search Results

Google is rolling out a new way for ecommerce stores to list deals in search results, which is currently free for all merchants.

The company reports people are looking for ways to save money even more than usual, with searches for “discount code” increasing 50% since last year.

Ahead of two major shopping seasons — back-to-school and winter holidays — Google is giving retailers in the United States more tools to reach deal-seeking customers.

Here’s more about the new features retailers can start using right away.

Free Deals Listings in Google Search Results

As of today, Google is highlighting deals in the shopping tab of search results.

When searching for a product, the shopping tab will now organize and show product listings that are competitively priced or discounted from retailers across the web.

In October, Google Search will start showcasing the most popular deals for major retail sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

When people search for deals during major sales events, like “Black Friday deals” or “Cyber Monday sales,” they will see a new section highlighting relevant deals, alongside other related sales information.

When retailers upload promotions and deals in Google Merchant Center will be automatically surfaced for relevant queries in the Shopping tab.

Google will surface offers based on factors such as the discount itself, how popular a product is, how popular the site it’s listed on is, and more.

This creates opportunities for ecommerce stores to move inventory, drive sales, and attract new customers during important shopping events and peak holiday season.

Customize Promotions in Google Merchant Center

Another update launched today in Merchant Center allows retailers to customize their promotions.

It’s now possible to indicate if a deal is only available to first-time customers.

For example, the title of the promotion can now say “10% off for new members.”

The promotions will be shown to all shoppers, but only those who meet a retailer’s specified criteria will be able to access the promotional price.

Better Merchandising Insights

In one last update rolling out now, Google is adding two new features to the best sellers report:

Historical best seller data: Helps retailers predict sales trends for the upcoming season with insights into popular products from previous shopping events.

Relative product demand: Helps retailers gauge the relative demand between products in the same category and country, as well as the potential opportunity when stocking new products.

Merchants can access the best sellers report after opting into market insights within Merchant Center.

Source: Google

Google: Patents Are Not Always Used In Search

Mueller’s exact quote on this subject is as follows (more context available in the next section):

“But just because it’s patented from Google, and maybe even from someone who works on search, doesn’t mean that we actually use it in search.“

This is stated by Mueller during the Google Search Central SEO hangout recorded on February 5.

An SEO named Neeraj Pandey asked a question about image recognition and whether Google can understand what’s going on in an image.

In response Mueller says even if Google is capable of doing something there’s no guarantee the technology is being used in search. That applies to technology Google owns patents for as well.

Here are the full details of Mueller’s response.

Google’s John Mueller on Patents

Google & Image Recognition

Addressing the original question, Mueller says it’s possible Google can pull information from objects in an image, but it likely would not override other ranking factors.

It’s more something that would be used as a tie breaker. If multiple images have equivalent ranking signals, image recognition may be used to determine which one is more relevant to the query.

However, Mueller is only hypothesizing, as he says he’s not certain whether image recognition is used in search rankings.

“It’s certainly possible to some extent to pull out some additional information from an image. Which could be objects in the image or what is happening in the image. But I don’t know if that would override any of the other factors that we have there.

My understanding is this is probably something that would be more on the side – if we have multiple images that we think are equivalent, and we can clearly tell, somehow, that this one is more relevant because it has the objects or the actions that someone is searching for, then maybe we would use that.

But I honestly don’t know what we’ve announced in that area or what we’re actually using for search there.”

Google Patents & Search Rankings

Mueller turns his answer toward other things that are theoretically possible, such as technology and different processes that Google owns a patent for.

Not everything makes sense for search, Mueller says. While some patents do get used in search results, the existence of a patent should not be taken as confirmation of what Google is using and not using.

“The thing to keep in mind is there are a lot of different elements that are theoretically possible that might be done in consumer devices. There are lots of things that are patented that are out there that are theoretically possible.

But just because it’s possible in some instances doesn’t mean that it makes sense for search. And we see that a lot with patents when it comes to search where someone will patent a really cool algorithm or setup which could have an implication for search.

But just because it’s patented from Google, and maybe even from someone who works on search, doesn’t mean that we actually use it in search.”

Hear Mueller’s full response in the video below:

Google’s New Measures To Protect Search Results From Vandalism

Google is investing in new efforts to ward off vandalism in search results and ensure information remains relevant and reliable.

In addition, Google has provided details about measures already in place to get breaking news indexed many times faster than before.

Here’s more of what was announced today in relation to improving information quality in search and news results.

Breaking News Delivered Faster

Google has developed an intelligence desk that actively monitors and identifies potential information threats.

This is an extension of Google’s crisis response team, which has tracked events around the world in real-time for years already.

“The Intelligence Desk is a global team of analysts monitoring news events 24/7, spanning natural disasters and crises, breaking news moments and the latest developments in ongoing topics like COVID.

When events occur, our analysts collect data about how our systems are responding and compile reports about narratives that are emerging, like new claims about COVID treatments.”

Reports from Google’s Intelligence Desk are used to ensure its systems are working as intended for the full range of topics people search for.

This effort has lead to a considerable improvement to how Google delivers information for breaking news and crises.

Now, Google’s systems can automatically recognize breaking news results in a matter of minutes – improved from 40 minutes in years past.

Google says this automated system is accurate and returns the most authoritative information available.

More Accurate Information in Knowledge Graph Panels

Information in Knowledge Graph panels are more accurate as a result of partnerships with government agencies, health organizations, and Wikipedia.

“For COVID-19, we worked with health organizations around the world to provide local guidance and information to keep people safe.

To respond to emerging information needs, like the surge we saw in people searching for ​unemployment benefits,​ we provide easy access to information right from government agencies in the U.S. and other countries.”

As you may have noticed from time to time, Wikipedia information in Knowledge Panels are the target of vandalism.

This happens when Wikipedia pages are edited to intentionally provide false or misleading information.

Google can now detect 99% of Wikipedia vandalism cases, which allows its team to take action quickly.

Improvements to Fact Checks

Google assists searchers with identifying false information through the use of fact checks in search results.

So far this year, searchers have seen fact checks in Google search results over 4 billion times. That’s more than all of 2023 combined.

Google is investing in making its fact checking system even more reliable by donating $6.5 million to organizations and nonprofits that specialize in fact checks.

In addition, Google has begun using BERT to improve the matching between news stories and available fact checks.

This allows Google’s systems to better understand whether a fact check claim is related to the central topic of the story.

Google then displays the fact checks prominently in the ‘Full Coverage’ section of news stories – a feature that provides full context from a variety of sources.

Greater Protections for Search Features

Google has policies in place for what can appear in organic search results, as well as search features.

Autocomplete, for example, has policies around hateful and inappropriate predictions from being suggested.

Google is improving its automated systems for autocomplete to not show predications if it determines the query may not lead to reliable content.

Other Highlights From Today’s Announcements

Google held a conference call in which I, along with many other reporters, got to hear Google deliver today’s announcements first-hand.

Here are some other notable details from the call:

25 billion spammy pages are detected every day

15% of all queries have never been searched for before (the greatest amount to date)

Google’s search rater guidelines are the “North Star” for understanding what algorithms are trying to do when ranking search results.

Google has 10,000 search quality raters around the world, including some in every state in the US

Google runs 1,000 search quality tests per day

Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (EAT) are weighted more heavily for YMYL (your money your life) queries

COVID-19 is the biggest topic in the history of Google Trends

Source: Google

Accelerated Mobile Pages (Amps) Now Indexed In Organic Search Results

After announcing last week this change would be coming soon, Google is now officially rolling out AMP pages in organic search results around the world.

Google has been working to make the web faster for everyone with the introduction of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) technology. In February, Google doubled down on its support for AMP by including a ‘Top Stories’ carousel consisting entirely of pages developed with AMP technology.

In August, Google hinted at what its next step will be with respect to Accelerated Mobile Pages. Google said it would be including AMP pages in the regular set of organic search results — today that is a reality.

What Does This Mean For Publishers?

When people are searching on a mobile device, Google search results will automatically default to displaying the AMP version of a page (if one is available). This change means a significant amount of new exposure for AMP pages; possibly leading to more traffic, revenue, and so forth.

For publishers who are not yet using AMP, today’s change puts the pressure on them to adopt the technology. To be clear, AMP itself is not a ranking signal. However, page load time is certainly factored in when ranking content.

Here’s more information about how AMP can affect SEO.

What Does This Mean for Searchers?

This update is sure to save people time when searching on Google with their mobile device. If searching over a cellular connection, it could save on data as well. This means people getting to what they want on the web faster than ever before.

Searchers will also have more immediate access to AMP pages than they did previously. Before, only a fraction of the AMP pages published to the web would show up in Google’s ‘top stories’ carousel. Now, all 600 million AMP documents in Google’s index will be discoverable (232 locales and 104 languages).

What is the Future of AMP?

I had the opportunity to speak with Rudy Galfi, lead product manager for AMP at Google, about this development and what he sees as the future for AMP.

Eventually there may come a time when developers code sites purely in AMP without having any other version available. The Accelerated Mobile Pages Project website is an example of this. Before going all-in with AMP, Galfi suggests site owners take a hard look at whether or not they’ll be able to accomplish everything they need to do with just an AMP site. Learn more about what it means to make your content AMP-friendly and see if it makes sense for your website.

Overall, Google is not only thrilled with the adoption rate from publishers so far, but with companies coming together around a common cause. For example, you have rival Bing surfacing AMP content on its mobile apps. Content management systems, such as WordPress, are developing easier ways for people to publish AMP content.

When asked for some hard number projections for the future, Galfi was reluctant to divulge exact figures, but does expect to see continued success and adoption of AMP technology.

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