Google Testing New Algorithms

Posted on the 10th February 2016

Earlier this week there was some chatter about Google testing new algorithms. While this early speculation of a new algorithm roll-out proved to be false, there does appear to be some testing going on in the wild.

Many webmasters have reported seeing their rankings bounce up and down over the second week of January, and both Mozcast and SERP Metrics have reported seeing changes in rankings. While it is unlikely that these changes relate to the roll-out of a new version of the Penguin algorithm, Google has been working on a lot of smaller updates, as well as continuing its focus on mobile traffic.

Incremental Updates

Google updates its algorithm around 600 times per year, although individual updates tend to be relatively small and affect a tiny percentage of search queries. However, it does occasionally roll out larger updates, with Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird and Mobilegeddon all being good examples.

This year, however, Google is focused on its learning AI – RankBrain, and similar enhancements which aim to understand how users engage with the web. It is even working on an algorithm which aims to predict whether students are likely to answer questions in an exam correctly. This uses something called Deep Knowledge Tracing, which aims to understand how students learn, and how they are likely to answer questions based upon their understanding of a subject.

A Learning Search AI

For academia, this new algorithm will help to better serve students by giving them the resources that they require. For consumers, this represents the ultimate understanding of searcher intent. If Google knows what people know about a product, and can guess what they are thinking about and are interested in, they can be presented with the resources that they need, rather than the resources that they asked for.

RankBrain is a major step towards this, and makes Google provide better results for unique queries; natural language requests that have never before been searched for. These queries represent a significant percentage of Google’s traffic, and with this new algorithm Google can now take far better guesses at what the searcher is interested in, and what information they should have presented to them.

Webmasters who offer detailed, content-rich pages that answer a buyer’s most common questions will be in a strong position to benefit from RankBrain, and may even have their content appear in the answer box at the top of the SERPs.