- On Thursday, Google told Business Insider there’s a recent change to its search algorithm that it wants users to know about.
- When searching for something in which timeliness matters, Google will now surface the freshest, most-up-to-date information in its featured snippet boxes.
- "Featured snippets have been around for a while now and it’s just that as we add features like this, the quality of those featured snippets improves a little bit more," Pandu Nayak, Google’s VP of Search, told BI in a recent interview. "They become slightly more relevant and slightly more useful."
- Google says the algorithm change will also help search results become more accurate over time.
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But on Thursday, Google told Business Insider there’s a recent change it wants users to know about: When searching for something in which timeliness matters, the company will now surface the freshest, most-up-to-date information in its featured snippet boxes.
Say, for instance, you’re searching for "tax brackets." Previously, information may have surfaced from previous years, even though most users would be searching for the current year’s tax brackets. With the recent update, time-sensitive searches will be met with timely results.
"Featured snippets have been around for a while now and it’s just that as we add features like this, the quality of those featured snippets improves a little bit more," Pandu Nayak, Google’s VP of Search, told Business Insider in a recent interview. "They become slightly more relevant and slightly more useful. And so users may not explicitly notice that there’s been a change other than maybe sort of subtly noticing that, ‘Oh, things just started working just as I expect them to work.’"
Google says the algorithm change will also help search results become more accurate over time.
Take the recent premiere of the TV show "Stranger Things" as an example. Back in February, it was only known that the series’ season three premiere would be "at some point in 2019." But over time, it was announced that the season premiere would be on July 4th. Thus, the information in the featured snippet box for searches corresponding to the Stranger Things premiere was updated as a result of the recent tweak.
Google said the update will be especially important for health-related searches, like a food-recall, when surfacing the most up-to-date information can be critical.
Still, Google’s Nayak says not all cases require the freshest results. When searching for, "Why is the sky red at sunset," for instance, the best answer may be found on an older page.
A major part of what Nayak and his team had to solve for with the recent update was understanding when fresher content would actually provide more useful results.
"The notion of needing freshness is a little bit subtle," Nayak said. "It’s not always easy."
The search boss also told us that the update wasn’t the first time his team had applied freshness as a filter. The "Top Stories" feature, for instance, has taken recency into consideration for years.
As for how Google ultimately decides whether or not to tweak its search algorithm, Nayak tells us that each proposed change runs through a rigorous mix of evaluations by human raters contracted by the company and live testing on its site. Ultimately, the positive effects of any change, which Nayak describes as "wins," need to outweigh the negative, or "losses."
"Every change we make has wins and losses," Nayak said. "And we’ve got to make sure the wins truly outweigh the losses."
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