Author Archives: Danny Sullivan

New tools and features to support local news

Local news is essential to building healthy communities. One of the most obvious examples of this was the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, when different communities had different needs and were impacted in different ways. Local news ensured that people knew what to do.

More broadly, readers are looking for local news more than ever before. Queries on Google Search like “News near me” have increased three-fold over the past five years, reaching an all time high during the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020.

This image shows a trend line in the increase of searches of “news near me” which has increased 3x over the past 5 years worldwide.

At Google, we’re dedicated to finding new ways to help readers better connect with publishers and helping publishers more efficiently and creatively produce quality journalism their readers want. A year ago, we launched Journalist Studio, a set of free tools reporters can use in their daily jobs. Today we’re announcing a number of new features to help local publishers connect to readers, and new tools for reporters to produce deeper, more digitally focused work.

New product features for news

We have a number of new news features coming to Google Search to help readers find content from local publishers even more easily than before. First, we’re expanding a feature that we initially launched for COVID searches. Readers will soon see a carousel of local news stories when Google finds local news coverage relevant to their query. This carousel will be available globally in all languages and helps readers easily find stories near them from local news publishers. The feature helps local publishers by adding another way for their essential reporting to reach the community that needs it most.

Over the past few months, we've also been working on improving our systems so authoritative local news sources appear more often alongside national publications, when relevant, in our general news features such as Top Stories. This improvement ensures people will see authoritative local stories when they’re searching for news, helping both the brand and the content of news publishers reach more people.

In addition, we have improved the local news experience by refining our ability to understand topics beyond just broad areas, like sports, to narrower subtopics, such as football and high school football. When paired with our location signals, this helps readers get more relevant material for the topics they are searching. For example, if you’re in Detroit and search for football, we’ll now show you results for local high school and college teams, rather than just showing you results for, say, the professional team.

This GIF shows examples of different local news stories that demonstrate how Google will show additional subtopics for searches you make.

An example of how local news results will update to show additional subtopics

Social media can give readers additional information that they may be looking for about local issues. We recently launched a new way to help people find local information on the topics they’re searching for by surfacing tweets by local, authoritative sources and authors, including tweets from news organizations.

This GIF shows tweets from different news sources and authors can appear across Google News

An example of how tweets by local, authoritative sources and authors can appear.

New data tools for reporters

In addition to our product news, we’ve also been looking at how we can help reporters cover stories with locally relevant data.

The U.S. Census is one of the largest data sets journalists can access. It has layers and layers of important data that can help reporters tell detailed stories about their own communities. But the challenge is sorting through that data and visualizing it in a way that helps readers understand trends and the bigger picture.

Today we’re launching a new tool to help reporters dig through all that data to find stories and embed visualizations on their sites. The Census Mapper project is an embeddable map that displays Census data at the national, state and county level, as well as census tracts. It was produced in partnership with Pitch Interactive and Big Local News, as part of the 2020 Census Co-op (supported by the Google News Initiative and in cooperation with theJSK Journalism Fellowships).

This image shows a detailed, country level view of the Census Mapper, showing arrows across the US depicting movements of people and other demographic information from the Census

Census Mapper shows where populations have grown over time.

The Census data is pulled from the data collected and processed by The Associated Press, one of the Census Co-op partners. Census Mapper then lets local journalists easily embed maps showing population change at any level, helping them tell powerful stories in a more visual way about their communities.

This image shows changing demographic data from North Carolina, with arrows showing different movements around the state.

With the tool, you can zoom into states and below, such as North Carolina, shown here.

As part of our investment in data journalism we’re also making improvements to our Common Knowledge Project, a data explorer and visual journalism project to allow US journalists to explore local data. Built with journalists for journalists, the new version of Common Knowledge integrates journalist feedback and new features including geographic comparisons, new charts and visuals.

This image shows a comparison of people in San Francisco, CA compared with Oakland, CA between 2011 and 2018.

An example of the new look of the Common Knowledge Project

This image shows an example of what the Common Knowledge Project can show you - this shows the difference in the number of people in San Francisco, California between 2011 and 2019.

Another example of the new look of the Common Knowledge Project

We’re dedicated to supporting local newsrooms at every level of their reporting — from helping find, collect and visualize data, to searching through the data for stories. We know the importance of local news to communities and we’re invested in continuing to help local news publishers reach and engage audiences looking for their essential reporting.

Giving kids and teens more control over their images in Search

In this post, we'll walk you through how kids, teens and families can make use of a new tool that gives minors more control over their images in Google Search. Because while we already provide a range of options for people seeking to remove content from Search, we know that kids and teens have to navigate some unique challenges online, especially when a picture of them is unexpectedly available on the internet.

With a newly implemented policy, anyone under the age of 18, or their parent or guardian, can now request the removal of their images from Search results, following a few simple steps. This means these images won’t appear in the Images tab or as thumbnails in any feature in Google Search.

How to request the removal of images of minors from Google search results

If you’re under 18 and there’s an image of yourself that you want removed from Google results, you – or your parent, guardian or authorized representative – can follow these steps to request that it be removed:

  • Visit the help page for this new policy to understand the information you’ll need to provide when using the request form.
  • Start your removal request using the form at this support link.
  • Fill out the form to report the imagery that is appearing in results. In the form, include information like:
  • After you submit the request, our teams will review it and reach out for any additional information we might need to verify it meets the requirements for removal. And we’ll notify you once we’ve taken down the image, if it meets the requirements.

It’s important to note that removing an image from Google results doesn’t remove it from the internet. That’s why you might want to contact a site’s webmaster to ask that they remove the content, too. You can learn more about how to do that on our support page.

We believe this change will help give young people more control over their digital footprint and where their images can be found on Search. Learn more about other ways we work to help kids and families stay safe while exploring information online.

An overview of our rater guidelines for Search

At Google, we like to say that Search is not a solved problem: We’re constantly making improvements (more than 4,800 last year alone). These changes can be big launches or small tune-ups, but they’re all designed to make Search work better for you, and to make sure you can find relevant, high quality information when you need it.

One of the key ways we determine if an improvement to Search works well is through the help of search quality raters. This group of more than 10,000 people all over the world work from a common set of search quality rater guidelines used to evaluate the quality of search results — which are publicly available. Today, we wanted to give you an idea of how these guidelines work, and how — just like Search itself — they improve over time.

What are the search quality rater guidelines?

The quality rater guidelines are more than 170 pages long, but if we have to boil it down to one phrase, we’d say they help make sure Search is returning relevant results from the most reliable sources available.

Information quality is at the heart of Search, and our systems fundamentally work to surface high-quality information. The rater guidelines help raters determine if a planned improvement is meeting that goal by providing a clear, uniform definition that all raters use to assess the results they see.

More specifically, high-quality information is content which demonstrates expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness on a topic, or E-A-T for short. For example, a health site with content from doctors and produced by a medical institution would have a high level of what many would consider to be expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. The rater guidelines also define low-quality content on the web, such as content that spreads hate or seeks to deceive users.

Who uses the guidelines?

As we noted, the changes we make to Search are rigorously tested and evaluated by real people. Our search quality raters provide us with insights and evaluate pages against our guidelines to help make sure our systems — and proposed improvements — are working as intended.

What that looks like in practice is often a “side-by-side” test where a rater will look at two sets of Search results, one from the current version of Google and the other from an improvement we’re testing. Raters will review the pages in each set of results, and evaluate if the pages are a helpful match for the query based on our rater guidelines.

The ratings they provide don’t directly impact how a page or site appears in Search. Instead, they help us measure how well our systems are working to deliver great content.

How often are the rater guidelines updated?

Just like we make improvements to Search, we update the rater quality guidelines from time to time to make sure they’re working as intended.

Some changes are meant to tackle issues we’ve identified in Search, and may include expanded sections and new examples to help guide raters. For example, in 2017, we updated our guidelines to provide more detailed examples of low-quality web pages that included misleading information, unexpected offensive results, hoaxes or other content.

Sometimes, we identify concepts that are especially challenging for raters. We then make changes to the guidelines to improve ratings. In 2020, for instance, we provided new guidance on how to tell if a result from a dictionary or encyclopedia would be useful for a certain query.

Other changes focus on things like refreshing the language for clarity and updating organization. That’s what made up most of our October 2021 update, which included clarifications of what constitutes lowest quality content, and refreshed and modernized guidance on researching the reputation of websites.

We rigorously review, test and evaluate all changes to ensure they’re helpful and having the intended effect. And we have a publicly available log at the end of our guidelines describing in detail any changes we make. Ultimately, these updates are designed to make Search work better for you.

Helping people and businesses learn how Search works

Every day, billions of people come to Google to search for questions big and small. Whether it’s finding a recipe, looking for a local coffee shop or searching for information on complex topics like health, civics or finance, Google Search helps you get the information you need -- when you need it. 

But part of accomplishing our mission also means making information open and accessible about how Google Search, itself, works. That’s why we’re transparent about how we design Search, how we improve it and how it works to get you the information you’re looking for. 

Like many of the topics you might search for on Google, Search can seem complicated -- but we make it easy to learn about. Here are a few ways you can get a better understanding of how Google Search works:

A one-stop shop

Today, we’re launching a fully-redesigned How Search Works website that explains the ins and outs of Search -- how we approach the big, philosophical questions, along with the nitty-gritty details about how it all works. 

We first launched this website in 2016, and since then, millions of people have used it to discover more about how Search works. Now, we've updated the site with fresh information, made it easier to navigate and bookmark sections and added links to additional resources that share how Search works and answer common questions.

The website gives you a window into what happens from the moment you start typing in the search bar to the moment you get your search results. It gives an overview of the technology and work that goes into organizing the world’s information, understanding what you’re looking for and then connecting you with the most relevant, helpful information.

On the site, you can find details about how Google’s ranking systems sort through hundreds of billions of web pages and other content in our Search index -- looking at factors like meaning, relevance, quality, usability and context -- to present the most relevant, useful results in a fraction of a second. And you can learn about how we go about making improvements to Search. (There have been 4,500 such improvements in 2020 alone!) As you’ll read about, we rigorously test these changes with the help of thousands of Search Quality Raters all around the world -- people who are highly trained using our extensive guidelines. These rater guidelines are publicly available, and they describe in great detail how Search works to surface great content.

Cartoon image depicting results testing

We're always testing changes to Search to provide you with the most helpful results.

Watch and learn

You also can watch our How Search Works video series, a set of easy-to-understand explainers about how Search connects you to helpful, relevant information. Here, you’ll find the answers to common questions like how Autocomplete works (no, it’s not mind-reading), how Google keeps you safe on Search, how ads appear in Search and more. 

And if you’re really in the mood to learn all about Search -- and the real people behind the scenes who are working hard to make it better every single day -- you can watch our “home movie,” “Trillions of Questions, No Easy Answers.” Grab your popcorn!

Trending worldwide

It’s also easy for you to get a view into what people are searching for around the world using Google Trends. For more than 15 years, we’ve made this tool publicly accessible for anyone to gain more insight into how people are using Search to find information. Google Trends is the largest publicly available data set, using anonymized search interest across different geographies to highlight trending topics, questions and societal shifts. You can think of it as a window into what the world is searching for on the web.

Transparency for website creators

When it comes to the open web, we also invest heavily in helping site owners, publishers, businesses, creators and others succeed and get discovered on Search. At Google Search Central, creators can get expert advice from experienced webmasters, view over 1000+ educational videos, learn best practices for web development and discover many more tips to maximize their reach on Search. 

Every day, we make changes to make Search work better -- some small, some large. We work hard to give site owners and content producers ample notice and advice about changes where there’s actionable information they can use. While we strive to provide as much information as we can, we also have a responsibility to protect the integrity of our results and keep results as clean as possible from search spam.  That’s why, although we share a lot of information about Search updates, we can’t share every detail. Otherwise, bad actors would have the information they need to evade the protections we’ve put in place against deceptive, low-quality content.

Over the last two decades, Google Search has evolved tremendously, but one thing remains core to how we operate: transparency about our approach and commitment to providing universally accessible information to all. Explore our newly refreshed website to discover more as we continue to evolve.

Source: Search

A new notice in Search for rapidly evolving results

Accessing timely, relevant and reliable information is increasingly important in our current environment. Whether you see something on social media or are having a conversation with a friend, you might turn to Google to learn more about a developing issue.

While Google Search will always be there with the most useful results we can provide, sometimes the reliable information you’re searching for just isn’t online yet. This can be particularly true for breaking news or emerging topics, when the information that’s published first may not be the most reliable.

To help with this, we’ve trained our systems to detect when a topic is rapidly evolving and a range of sources hasn’t yet weighed in. We’ll now show a notice indicating that it may be best to check back later when more information from a wider range of sources might be available.

Screenshot of Google search results for the query "ufo filmed traveling 106 mph" along with a notice box that says "It looks like these results are changing quickly. If this topic is new, it can sometimes take time for information to be added by reliable sources."

Since last year, we’ve had similar notices that let you know when Google hasn’t been able to find anything that matches your search particularly well. With our recently-launched About This Result panel, you can also quickly find information about sources you find on Google Search and better determine if they’re likely to provide helpful or trustworthy information. With this additional context, you can make a more informed decision about the sites you may want to visit and what results will be most useful for you.

Across these features, our goal is to provide more context about your results so you can more confidently evaluate the information you find online. These new notices are rolling out in English in the U.S. to start, and we look forward to expanding these and other related features over the coming months.

How we update Search to improve your results

Our computers, smartphones and apps are regularly updated to help make them better. The same thing happens with Google Search. In fact, Google Search is updated thousands of times a year to improve the experience and the quality of results. Here’s more on how that process works.

Why updates are important

Google Search receives billions of queries every day from countries around the world in 150 languages. Our automated systems identify the most relevant and reliable information from hundreds of billions of pages in our index to help people find what they’re looking for. Delivering great results at this type of scale and complexity requires many different systems, and we’re always looking for ways to improve these systems so we can display the most useful results possible.

Thanks to ongoing improvements, our evaluation processes show we’ve decreased the number of irrelevant results appearing on a search results page by over 40% over the past five years. Google sends billions of visits to websites each day, and by providing highly relevant results, we've been able to continue growing the traffic we send to sites every year since our founding.

We also send visitors to a wide range of sites — more than 100 million every day — so we’re helping sites from across the web and around the world get discovered. As new sites emerge and the web changes, continued updates are key to ensuring we’re supporting a wide range of publishers, creators and businesses, while providing searchers with the best information available.

How updates make Search better

Here are a few examples of what these updates look like:

Last month we launched an improvement we made to help people find better product reviews through Search. We have an automated system that tries to determine if a review  seems to go beyond just sharing basic information about a product and instead demonstrates in-depth research or expertise. This helps people find high quality information from the content producers who are making it.

Another example is an update we made several years ago that tries to determine if content is mobile-friendly. In situations where there are many possible matches with relatively equal relevancy, giving a preference to those that render better on mobile devices is more useful for users searching on those devices.

In any given week, we might implement dozens of updates that are meant to improve Search in incremental ways. These are improvements that have been fully tested and evaluated through our rating process. People using Search generally don’t notice these updates, but Google gets a little better with each one. Collectively, they add up to help Search continue providing great results.

Because there are so many incremental updates, it’s not useful for us to share details about all of them. However, we try to do so when we feel there is actionable information that site owners, content producers or others might consider applying, as was the case with both of the updates mentioned above.

Core updates involve broad improvements to Search

Periodically, we make more substantial improvements to our overall ranking processes. We refer to these as core updates, and they can produce some noticeable changes — though typically these are more often noticed by people actively running websites or performing search engine optimization (SEO) than ordinary users.

This is why we give notice when these kinds of updates are coming. We want site owners to understand these changes aren't because of something they've done but rather because of how our systems have been improved to better assess content overall and better address user expectations. We also want to remind them that nothing in a core update (or any update) is specific to a particular site, but is rather about improving Search overall. As we’ve said previously in our guidance about this:

There's nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well in a core update. They haven't violated our webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to manual or algorithmic action, as can happen to pages that do violate those guidelines. In fact, there's nothing in a core update that targets specific pages or sites. Instead, the changes are about improving how our systems assess content overall. These changes may cause some pages that were previously under-rewarded to do better.

One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine that in 2015 you made a list of the top 100 movies. A few years later in 2019, you refresh the list. It's going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. You might also reassess some films and realize they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before.

The list will change, and films previously higher on the list that move down aren't bad. There are simply more deserving films that are coming before them.

Core updates are designed to increase the overall relevancy of our search results. In terms of traffic we send, it’s largely a net exchange. Some content might do less well, but other content gains. In the long term, improving our systems in this way is how we’ve continued to improve Search and send more traffic to sites across the web every year.

How we help businesses and creators with guidance and tools 

While there’s nothing specific sites need to implement for core updates, we provide guidance and actionable advice that may help them be successful with Search overall. Following this guidance isn't a guarantee a site will rank well for every query it wants to. That’s not something Google or any other search engine could guarantee.

Any particular query can have thousands of pages or other content that's all relevant in some way. It’s impossible to show all this content at the top of our results. And that wouldn’t be useful for searchers, who come to Search precisely because they expect us to show the most helpful information first.

By following our core update guidance, businesses, site owners and content creators can help us better understand when they really have the most relevant and useful content to display. We also recommend sites follow our quality guidelines, implement our optimization tips and make use of the free Search Console tool that anyone can use.

These kinds of updates, along with the tools and advice we offer, are how we make sure we keep connecting searchers to content creators, businesses and others who have the helpful information they’re looking for.

Source: Search

When (and why) we remove content from Google search results

Access to information is at the core of Google’s mission, and every day we work to make information from the web available to everyone. We design our systems to return the most relevant and reliable information possible, but our search results include pages from the open web. Depending on what you search for, the results can include content that people might find objectionable or offensive.

While we’re committed to providing open access to information, we also have a strong commitment and responsibility to comply with the law and protect our users. When content is against local law, we remove it from being accessible in Google Search. 

Overall, our approach to information quality and webpage removals aims to strike a balance between ensuring that people have access to the information they need, while also doing our best to protect against harmful information online. Here’s an overview of how we do that.

Complying with the law

We hold ourselves to a high standard when it comes to our legal requirements to remove pages from Google search results. For many issues, such as privacy or defamation, our legal obligations may vary country by country, as different jurisdictions have come to different conclusions about how to deal with these complex topics.

We encourage people and authorities to alert us to content they believe violates the law. In fact, in most cases, this is necessary, because determining whether content is illegal is not always a determination that Google is equipped to make, especially without notice from those who are affected. 

For example, in the case of copyrighted material, we can’t automatically confirm whether a given page hosting that particular content has a license to do so, so we need rightsholders to tell us. By contrast, the mere presence of child sex abuse material (CSAM) on a page is illegal in most jurisdictions, so we develop ways to automatically identify that content and prevent it from showing in our results.

In the case of all legal removals, we share information about government requests for removal in our Transparency Report. Where possible, we inform website owners about requests for removal via Search Console.

Voluntary removal policies

Beyond removing content as required by law, we also have a set of policies that go beyond what’s legally required, mostly focused on highly personal content appearing on the open web. Examples of this content include financial or medical information, government-issued IDs, and intimate imagery published without consent.

These types of content are information that people generally intend to keep private and can cause serious harm, like identity theft, so we give people the ability to request removal from our search results.

We also look for new ways to carefully expand these policies to allow further protections for people online. For example, we allow people to request the removal of pages about themselves on sites with exploitative removals policies, as well as pages that include contact information alongside personal threats, a form of “doxxing.” In these cases, while people may want to access these sites to find potentially useful information or understand their policies and practices, the pages themselves provide little value or public interest, and might lead to reputational or even physical harm that we aim to help protect against.

Solving issues at scale

It might seem intuitive to solve content problems by removing more content — either page by page, or by limiting access to entire sites. However, in addition to being in tension with our mission, this approach also doesn’t effectively scale to the size of the open web, with trillions of pages and more being added each minute. Building scalable, automated approaches allows us to not only solve these challenges more effectively, but also avoid unnecessarily limiting access to legal content online.

Our most effective protection is to design systems that rank high-quality, reliable information at the top of our results. And while we do remove pages in compliance with our policies and legal obligations, we also use insights from those removals to improve our systems overall.

For example, when we receive a high volume of valid copyright removal requests from a given site, we are able to use that as a quality signal and demote the site in our results. We’ve developed similar approaches for sites whose pages we’ve removed under our voluntary policies. This allows us to not only help the people requesting the removals, but also scalably fight against the issue in other cases.

An evolving web

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that even when we remove content from Google Search, it may still exist on the web, and only a website owner can remove content entirely. But we do fight against the harmful effects of sensitive personal information appearing in our results, and have strict practices to ensure we’re complying with the law. We’re always evolving our approach to protect against bad actors on the web and ensure Google continues to deliver high-quality, reliable information for everyone. 

Beyond how we handle removals of we pages, if you’d like to learn more about how we approach our policies for search features, visit this post. And if you’re still looking for more details about Search, check out more past articles in our How Search Works series.

Source: Search

Google Search sends more traffic to the open web every year

This week, we saw some discussion about a claim that the majority of searches on Google end without someone clicking off to a website — or what some have called “zero-click” searches. As practitioners across the search industry have noted, this claim relies on flawed methodology that misunderstands how people use Search. In reality, Google Search sends billions of clicks to websites every day, and we’ve sent more traffic to the open web every year since Google was first created. And beyond just traffic, we also connect people with businesses in a wide variety of ways through Search, such as enabling a phone call to a business. 

To set the record straight, we wanted to provide important context about this misleading claim.

How people use Search 

People use Search to find a wide range of information, and billions of times per day, Google Search sends someone to a website. But not every query results in a click to a website, and there are a lot of very good reasons why:

People reformulate their queries

People don’t always know how to word their queries when they begin searching. They might start with a broad search, like “sneakers” and, after reviewing results, realize that they actually wanted to find “black sneakers.” In this case, these searches would be considered a “zero-click” — because the search didn’t result immediately in a click to a website. In the case of shopping for sneakers, it may take a few “zero-click” searches to get there, but if someone ultimately ends up on a retailer site and makes a purchase, Google has delivered a qualified visitor to that site, less likely to bounce back dissatisfied.

Because this happens so frequently, we offer many features (like “related searches” links) to help people formulate their searches and get to the most helpful result, which is often on a website.

People look for quick facts

People look for quick, factual information, like weather forecasts, sports scores, currency conversions, the time in different locations and more. As many search engines do, we provide this information directly on the results page, drawing from licensing agreements or tools we’ve developed. These results are helpful for users, and part of our ongoing work to make Google Search better every day.

In 2020, for example, we showed factual information about important topics like COVID and the U.S. elections, which generated some of the most interest we’ve ever seen on Search. Our elections results feature was seen billions of times, delivering high-quality information in real time as people awaited the outcome. We also provided factual information about COVID symptoms in partnership with the WHO and local health authorities, making critical information readily accessible and upholding our responsibility to fight against potential misinformation online. 

People connect with a business directly

When it comes to local businesses, we provide many ways for consumers to connect directly with businesses through Google Search, many of which don’t require a traditional click. As an example, people might search for business hours, then drive to the store after confirming a location is open. Or they find restaurants on Google and call for information or to place an order, using phone numbers we list. On average, local results in Search drive more than 4 billion connections for businesses every month. This includes more than 2 billion visits to websites as well as connections like phone calls, directions, ordering food and making reservations.

We also help the many local businesses that don’t have their own website. Through Google My Business, businesses can create and manage their own page on Google, and get found online. Each month, Google Search connects people with more than 120 million businesses that don’t have a website. 

People navigate directly to apps

Some searches take people directly to apps, rather than to websites. For example, if you search for a TV show, you'll see links to various streaming providers like Netflix or Hulu. If you have that streaming app on your phone, these links will take you directly into the app. The same is true for many other apps, such as Instagram, Amazon, Spotify and more.

More opportunity for websites and businesses

We send billions of visits to websites every day, and the traffic we’ve sent to the open web has increased every year since Google Search was first created. 

Over the years, we’ve worked to constantly improve Google Search by designing and rolling out helpful features to help people quickly find what they’re looking for, including maps, videos, links to products and services you can buy directly, flight and hotel options, and local business information like hours of operation and delivery services. In doing so, we’ve dramatically grown the opportunity for websites to reach people. In fact, our search results page, which used to show 10 blue links, now shows an average of 26 links to websites on a single search results page on mobile. 

Building for the future of the web

We care deeply about the open web and have continually improved Google Search over the years, helping businesses, publishers and creators thrive. Some would argue that we should revert back to showing only 10 blue website links. While we do show website links for many queries today when they are the most helpful response, we also want to build new features that organize information in more helpful ways than just a list of links. And we’ve seen that as we’ve introduced more of these features over the last two decades, the traffic we’re driving to the web has also grown — showing that this is helpful for both consumers and businesses.

Source: Search

How location helps provide more relevant search results

There are many factors that play a role in providing helpful results when you search for something on Google. These factors help us rank or order results and can include the words of your query, the relevance or usability of web pages in our index, and the expertise of sources.

Location is another important factor to provide relevant Search results. It helps you find the nearest coffee shop when you need a pick-me-up, traffic predictions along your route, and even important emergency information for your area. In this post, we’ll share details about the vital role that location plays in generating great search results.

Finding businesses and services in your community

It’s a Friday night. You’re hungry and want some pizza delivered. If Google couldn’t consider location in search ranking, our results might display random pizza restaurants that are nowhere near you. With location information, we can better ensure you’re getting webpages and business listings about pizza places that are local and relevant to you.

The same is true for many types of businesses and services with physical locations, such as banks, post offices, restaurants or stores. Consider two people who search for zoos—one in Omaha, Nebraska and the other in Mobile, Alabama. Location information helps both get the right local information that they need:

Searches for "zoos" in Omaha, Nebraska and Mobile, Alabama

Same query, different local contexts

Location can matter even when you’re searching for something that doesn’t necessarily have a physical location. For example, a search for “air quality” in San Diego, California versus Tulsa, Oklahoma might lead you to pages with local information relevant to each area.

Searches for “air quality” in San Diego, California and Tulsa, Oklahoma

Similarly, certain information in Search can be more useful if it’s specific to your city or neighborhood. If you were to search Google for “parking information,” you might see information about municipal codes and parking enforcement for your local area that would differ from what someone else might see in another city. 

Local information in search results can also be helpful in an emergency. If you search for “hurricane,” our Crisis Response features can show you local shelter information if there’s a hurricane close by, rather than just generic information about what a hurricane is.

Of course, just because some searches have local results, it’s not the case that everyone gets completely different results just because they are in different cities (or even different countries). If a search topic has no local aspect to it, there won’t be local results shown. If there is, we’ll show a mix of local results that are relevant to particular places along with non-local results that are generally useful.

How location works at Google

You might be wondering how location works at Google. Google determines location from a few different sources, and then uses this information to deliver more relevant experiences when it will be more helpful for people. Learn more about the different ways we may understand location in the video below as well as how to manage your data in a way that works best for you on our help center page about location and Search

Location is a critical part of how Google is able to deliver the most relevant and helpful search results possible—whether you need emergency information in a snap, or just some late-night pizza delivered. For more under-the-hood information, check out our How Search Works series. 

Source: Search

How Google autocomplete predictions are generated

You come to Google with an idea of what you’d like to search for. As soon as you start typing, predictions appear in the search box to help you finish what you’re typing. These time-saving predictions are from a feature called Autocomplete, which we covered previously in this How Search Works series.

In this post, we’ll explore how Autocomplete’s predictions are automatically generated based on real searches and how this feature helps you finish typing the query you already had in mind. We’ll also look at why not all predictions are helpful, and what we do in those cases.

Where predictions come from

Autocomplete predictions reflect searches that have been done on Google. To determine what predictions to show, our systems begin by looking at common and trending queries that match what someone starts to enter into the search box. For instance, if you were to type in “best star trek…”, we’d look for the common completions that would follow, such as “best star trek series” or “best star trek episodes.”

Autocomplete star trek

That’s how predictions work at the most basic level. However, there’s much more involved. We don’t just show the most common predictions overall. We also consider things like the language of the searcher or where they are searching from, because these make predictions far more relevant. 

Below, you can see predictions for those searching for “driving test” in the U.S. state of California versus the Canadian province of Ontario. Predictions differ in naming relevant locations or even spelling “centre” correctly for Canadians rather than using the American spelling of “center.”

Autocomplete driving test

To provide better predictions for long queries, our systems may automatically shift from predicting an entire search to portions of a search. For example, we might not see a lot of queries for “the name of the thing at the front” of some particular object. But we do see a lot of queries for “the front of a ship” or “the front of a boat” or “the front of a car.” That’s why we’re able to offer these predictions toward the end of what someone is typing.

Autocomplete name of a thing

We also take freshness into account when displaying predictions. If our automated systems detect there’s rising interest in a topic, they might show a trending prediction even if it isn’t typically the most common of all related predictions that we know about. For example, searches for a basketball team are probably more common than individual games. However, if that team just won a big face-off against a rival, timely game-related predictions may be more useful for those seeking information that’s relevant in that moment.

Predictions also will vary, of course, depending on the specific topic that someone is searching for. People, places and things all have different attributes that people are interested in. For example, someone searching for “trip to New York” might see a prediction of “trip to New York for Christmas,” as that’s a popular time to visit that city. In contrast, “trip to San Francisco” may show a prediction of “trip to San Francisco and Yosemite.” Even if two topics seem to be similar or fall into similar categories, you won’t always see the same predictions if you try to compare them.  Predictions will reflect the queries that are unique and relevant to a particular topic.

Overall, Autocomplete is a complex time-saving feature that’s not simply displaying the most common queries on a given topic. That’s also why it differs from and shouldn’t be compared against Google Trends, which is a tool for journalists and anyone else who’s interested to research the popularity of searches and search topics over time.

Predictions you likely won’t see

Predictions, as explained, are meant to be helpful ways for you to more quickly finish completing something you were about to type. But like anything, predictions aren’t perfect. There’s the potential to show unexpected or shocking predictions. It’s also possible that people might take predictions as assertions of facts or opinions. We also recognize that some queries are less likely to lead to reliable content.

We deal with these potential issues in two ways. First and foremost, we have systems designed to prevent potentially unhelpful and policy-violating predictions from appearing. Secondly, if  our automated systems don’t catch predictions that violate our policies, we have enforcement teams that remove predictions in accordance with those policies.

Our systems are designed to recognize terms and phrases that might be violent, sexually-explicit, hateful, disparaging or dangerous. When we recognize that such content might surface in a particular prediction, our systems prevent it from displaying. 

People can still search for such topics using those words, of course. Nothing prevents that. We’re simply not wanting to unintentionally shock or surprise people with predictions they might not have expected.

Using our automated systems, we can also recognize if a prediction is unlikely to return much reliable content. For example, after a major news event, there can be any number of unconfirmed rumors or information spreading, which we would not want people to think Autocomplete is somehow confirming. In these cases, our systems identify if there’s likely to be reliable content on a particular topic for a particular search. If that likelihood is low, the systems might automatically prevent a prediction from appearing. But again, this doesn’t stop anyone from completing a search on their own, if they wish.

While our automated systems typically work very well, they don’t catch everything. This is why we have policies for Autocomplete, which we publish for anyone to read. Our systems aim to prevent policy-violating predictions from appearing. But if any such predictions do get past our systems, and we’re made aware (such as through public reporting options), our enforcement teams work to review and remove them, as appropriate. In these cases, we remove both the specific prediction in question and often use pattern-matching and other methods to catch closely-related variations.

As an example of all this in action, consider our policy about names in Autocomplete, which began in 2016. It’s designed to prevent showing offensive, hurtful or inappropriate queries in relation to named individuals, so that people aren’t potentially forming an impression about others solely off predictions.  We have systems that aim to prevent these types of predictions from showing for name queries. But if violations do get through, we remove them in line with our policies. 

You can always search for what you want

Having discussed why some predictions might not appear, it’s also helpful to remember that predictions are not search results. Occasionally, people concerned about predictions for a particular query might suggest that we’re preventing actual search results from appearing. This is not the case. Autocomplete policies only apply to predictions. They do not apply to search results. 

We understand that our protective systems may prevent some useful predictions from showing. In fact, our systems take a particularly cautious approach when it comes to names and might prevent some non-policy violating predictions from appearing. However, we feel that taking this cautious approach is best. That’s especially because even if a prediction doesn’t appear, this does not impact the ability for someone to finish typing a query on their own and finding search results. 

We hope this has helped you understand more about how we generate predictions that allow you to more quickly complete the query you started, whether that’s while typing on your laptop or swiping the on-screen keyboard on your phone.