Author Archives: Nick Fox

How Google organizes information to find what you’re looking for

When you come to Google and do a search, there might be billions of pages that are potential matches for your query, and millions of new pages being produced every minute. In the early days, we updated our search index once per month. Now, like other search engines Google, is constantly indexing new info to make accessible through Search.

But to make all of this information useful, it’s critical that we organize it in a way that helps people quickly find what they’re looking for. With this in mind, here’s a closer look at how we approach organizing information on Google Search.

Organizing information in rich and helpful features

Google indexes all types of information--from text and images in web pages, to real-world information, like whether a local store has a sweater you’re looking for in stock. To make this information useful to you, we organize it on the search results page in a way that makes it easy to scan and digest. When looking for jobs, you often want to see a list of specific roles. Whereas if you’re looking for a restaurant, seeing a map can help you easily find a spot nearby. 

We offer a wide range of features--from video and news carousels, to results with rich imagery, to helpful labels like star reviews--to help you navigate the available information more seamlessly. These features include links to web pages, so you can easily click to a website to find more information. In fact, we’ve grown the average number of outbound links to websites on a search results page from only 10 (“10 blue links”) to now an average of 26 links on a mobile results page. As we’ve added more rich features to Google Search, people are more likely to find what they’re looking for, and websites have more opportunity to appear on the first page of search results.

google search results page for pancake in 2012 v. 2020

When you searched for “pancake” in 2012, you mostly saw links to webpages. Now, you can easily find recipe links, videos, facts about pancakes, nutritional information, restaurants that serve pancakes, and more.

Presenting information in rich features, like an image carousel or a map, makes Google Search more helpful, both to people and to businesses. These features are designed so you can find the most relevant and useful information for your query. By improving our ability to deliver relevant results, we’ve seen that people are spending more time on the webpages they find through Search. The amount of time spent on websites following a click from Google Search has significantly grown year over year. 

Helping you explore and navigate topics

Another important element of organizing information is helping you learn more about a topic. After all, most queries don’t just have a single answer--they’re often open-ended questions like “dessert ideas.”

Our user experience teams spend a lot of time focused on how we can make it easy and intuitive to refine your search as you go. This is why we’ve introduced features like carousels, where you can easily swipe your phone screen to get more results. For instance, if you search for “meringue”, you might see a list of related topics along with related questions that other people have asked to help you on your journey.

google search results page for query meringue

How features and results are ranked

Organizing information into easy-to-use formats is just one piece of the puzzle. To make all of this information truly useful, we also must order, or “rank,” results in a way that ensures the most helpful and reliable information rises to the top.

Our ranking systems consider a number of factors--from what words appear on the page, to how fresh the content is--to determine what results are most relevant and helpful for a given query. Underpinning these systems is a deep understanding of information--from language and visual content to context like time and place--that allows us to match the intent of your query with the most relevant, highest quality results available

In cases where there’s a single answer, like “When was the first Academy Awards?,” directly providing that answer is the most helpful result, so it will appear at the top of the page. But sometimes queries can have many interpretations. Take a query like “pizza”--you might be looking for restaurants nearby, delivery options, pizza recipes, and more. Our systems aim to compose a page that is likely to have what you’re looking for, ranking results for the most likely intents at the top of the page. Ranking a pizza recipe first would certainly be relevant, but our systems have learned that people searching for “pizza” are more likely to be looking for restaurants, so we’re likely to show a map with local restaurants first. Contrast that to a query like “pancake” where we find that people are more likely looking for recipes, so recipes often rank higher, and a map with restaurants serving pancakes may appear lower on the page.
google search results pages for pizza and pancake

An important thing to remember is that ranking is dynamic. New things are always happening in the world, so the available information and the meaning of queries can change day-by-day. This summer, searches for “why is the sky orange” turned from a general question about sunsets to a specific, locally relevant query about weather conditions on the West Coast of the U.S. due to wildfires. We constantly evaluate the quality of our results to ensure that even as queries or content changes, we’re still providing helpful information. More than 10,000 search quality raters around the world help us conduct hundreds of thousands of tests every year, and it’s through this process that we know that our investments in Google Search truly benefit people.

We’ve heard people ask if we design our search ranking systems to benefit advertisers, and we want to be clear: that is absolutely not the case. We never provide special treatment to advertisers in how our search algorithms rank their websites, and nobody can pay us to do so. 

Ongoing investment in a high quality experience

As we’ve seen for many years, and as was particularly apparent in the wake of COVID, information needs can change rapidly. As the world changes, we are always looking for new ways we can make Google Search better and help people improve their lives through access to information.

Every year, we make thousands of improvements to Google Search, all of which we test to ensure they’re truly making the experience more intuitive, modern, delightful, helpful and all-around better for the billions of queries we get every day. Search will never be a solved problem, but we’re committed to continuing to innovate to make Google better for you.

Organizing the world’s information: where does it all come from?

Since Google was founded more than 22 years ago, we’ve continued to pursue an ambitious mission of organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful. While we started with organizing web pages, our mission has always been much more expansive. We didn’t set out to organize the web’s information, but all the world’s information. 

Quickly, Google expanded beyond the web and began to look for new ways to understand the world and make information and knowledge accessible for more people. The internet--and the world--have changed a lot since those early days, and we’ve continued to improve Google Search to both anticipate and respond to the ever-evolving information needs that people have. 

It’s no mystery that the search results you saw back in 1998 look different than what you might find today. So we wanted to share an overview of where the information on Google comes from and, in another post, how we approach organizing an ever-expanding universe of web pages, images, videos, real-world insights and all the other forms of information out there.

Information from the open web

You’re probably familiar with web listings on Google--the iconic “blue link” results that take you to pages from across the web. These listings, along with many other features on the search results page, link out to pages on the open web that we’ve crawled and indexed, following instructions provided by the site creators themselves.

Site owners have the control to tell our web crawler (Googlebot) what pages we should crawl and index, and they even have more granular controls to indicate which portions of a page should appear as a text snippet on Google Search. Using our developer tools, site creators can choose if they want to be discovered via Google and optimize their sites to improve how they’re presented, with the aim to get more free traffic from people looking for the information and services they’re offering. 

Google Search is one of many ways people find information and websites.  Every day, we send billions of visitors to sites across the web, and the traffic we send has grown every year since Google started. This traffic goes to a wide range of websites, helping people discover new companies, blogs, and products, not just the largest, well known sites on the web. Every day, we send visitors to well over 100 million different websites. 

Common knowledge and public data sources

Creators, publishers and businesses of all sizes work to create unique content, products and services. But there is also information that falls into the category of what you might describe as common knowledge--information that wasn’t uniquely created or doesn’t “belong” to any one person, but represents a set of facts that is broadly known. Think: the birthdate of a historical figure, the height of the tallest mountain in South America, or even what day it is today. 

We help people easily find these types of facts through a variety of Google Search features like knowledge panels. The information comes from a wide range of openly licensed sources such as Wikipedia, The Encyclopedia of Life, Johns Hopkins University CSSE COVID-19 Data, and the Data Commons Project, an open knowledge database of statistical data we started in collaboration with the U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Eurostat, World Bank and many others.

Another type of common knowledge is the product of calculations, and this is information that Google often generates directly. So when you search for a conversion of time (“What time is it in London?”) or measurement (“How many pounds in a metric ton?”), or want to know the square root of 348, those are pieces of information that Google calculates. Fun fact: we also calculate the sunrise and sunset times for locations based on latitude and longitude!

Licenses and partnerships

When it comes to organizing information, unstructured data (words and phrases on web pages) is more challenging for our automated systems to understand. Structured databases, including public knowledge bases like Wikidata, make it a lot easier for our systems to understand, organize and present facts in helpful features and formats.

For some specialized types of data, like sports scores, information about TV shows and movies, and song lyrics, there are providers who work to organize information in a structured format and offer technical solutions (like APIs) to deliver fresh info. We license data from these companies to ensure that providers and creators (like music publishers and artists) are compensated for their work. When people come to Google looking for this information, they can access it right away.

We always work to deliver high quality information, and for topics like health or civic participation that affect people’s livelihoods, easy access to reliable, authoritative information is critically important. For these types of topics, we work with organizations like local health authorities, such as the CDC in the U.S., and nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations like Democracy Works to make authoritative information readily available on Google.

Information that people and businesses provide

There’s a wide range of information that exists in the world that isn’t currently available on the open web, so we look for ways to help people and businesses share these updates, including by providing information directly to Google. Local businesses can claim their Business Profile and share the latest with potential customers on Search, even if they don’t have a website. In fact, each month Google Search connects people with more than 120 million businesses that don’t have a website. On average, local results in Search drive more than 4 billion connections for businesses every month, including more than 2 billion visits to websites as well as connections like phone calls, directions, ordering food and making reservations.

We’re also deeply investing in new techniques to ensure that we’re reflecting the latest accurate information. This can be especially challenging as local information is constantly changing and not often accurately reflected on the web. For example, in the wake of COVID-19, we’ve used our Duplex conversational technology to call businesses, helping to update their listings by confirming details like modified store hours or whether they offer takeout and delivery. Since this work began, we’ve made over 3 million updates to businesses like pharmacies, restaurants and grocery stores that have been seen over 20 billion times in Maps and Search. 

Other businesses like airlines, retailers and manufacturers also provide Google and other sites with data about their products and inventory through direct feeds. So when you search for a flight from Bogota to Lima, or want to learn more about the specs of the hottest new headphones, Google can provide high quality information straight from the source.

We also provide ways for people to share their knowledge about places across more than 220 countries and territories. Thanks to millions of contributions submitted by users every day--from reviews and ratings to photos, answers to questions, address updates and more--people all around the world can find the latest, accurate local information on Google Search and Maps. 

Newly created information and insights from Google

Through advancements in AI and machine learning, we’ve developed innovative ways to derive new insights from the world around us, providing people with information that can not only help them in their everyday lives, but also keep them safe.

For years, people have turned to our Popular Times feature to help gauge the crowds at their favorite brunch spots or visit their local grocery store when it’s less busy. We're continually improving the accuracy and coverage of this feature, currently available for 20 million places around the world on Maps and Search. Now, this technology is serving more critical needs during COVID. With an expansion of our live busyness feature, these Google insights are helping people take crowdedness into account as they patronize businesses through the pandemic. 

We also generate new insights to aid in crisis response--from wildfire maps based on satellite data to AI-generated flood forecasting--to help people stay out of harm’s way when disaster strikes.

Organizing information and making it accessible and useful

Simply compiling a wide range of information is not enough. Core to making information accessible is organizing it in a way that people can actually use it. 

How we organize information continues to evolve, especially as new information and content formats become available. To learn more about our approach to provide you with helpful, well-organized search results pages, check out the next blog in our How Search Worksseries.

The Google Assistant is going global

Over the past year and a half, the Google Assistant has grown from being available on just one device in one language to across many types of devices, including speakers, phones, Android Auto and TVs, in many languages all around the world. We’ve been focused on making the Assistant useful throughout all parts of your day, and earlier this year we showed the latest features we’re bringing to the Assistant in homes and in cars.

As we head into Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry’s largest trade show, we're sharing more about how we’re working closely with the mobile ecosystem to bring the Assistant to more people around the world. Similar to Android, where we've partnered closely with mobile carriers and device makers to build great products for people everywhere, we’re taking an ecosystem approach to the Assistant on mobile. Here's a look at what's coming.

Bringing the Assistant to more than 30 languages

Android users are all around the world, so from the start, our goal has been to bring the Assistant to as many people, languages, and locations as possible. The Assistant is already available in eight languages, and by the end of the year it will be available in more than 30 languages, reaching 95 percent of all eligible Android phones worldwide. In the next few months, we’ll bring the Assistant to Danish, Dutch, Hindi, Indonesian, Norwegian, Swedish and Thai on Android phones and iPhones, and we’ll add more languages on more devices throughout the year.

We’re also making the Assistant multilingual later this year, so families or individuals that speak more than one language can speak naturally to the Assistant. With this new feature, the Assistant will be able to understand you in multiple languages fluently. If you prefer to speak German at work, but French at home, your Assistant is right there with you. Multilingual will first be available in English, French and German, with support for more languages coming over time.

Building a great Assistant for phones

Since MWC last year, we've been working closely with device makers (OEMs) to bring all the capabilities of the Assistant to life on Android phones. This year, we’re bringing these efforts together as the Assistant Mobile OEM program, which will enable OEMs to build deeper integrations between the Assistant and device features, using natural language understanding and the conversational interfaces of the Assistant. We’ve already been working with OEMs for more than a year and continue to work together so they can build device-specific commands with the Assistant, develop integration with hardware-based AI chips, ensure “Ok Google" and "Hey Google" work when the screen is off, and build other custom integrations. Coming soon, we’ll also have new integrations from LG, Sony Mobile and Xiaomi.

Mobile carriers also play a critical role in delivering great mobile experiences to people through their networks and services. Our Assistant Carrier program helps mobile carriers use capabilities in the Assistant to give their customers more insight and control over their service. This includes helping people learn more about their plan, add new services (like international data roaming), get customer support and more. This gives carriers a new way to support their customers while reducing response time. Carriers Sprint, Koodo, Telus and Vodafone are already developing integrations with the Assistant, with more coming soon.

A better experience across devices

The Assistant can already help you keep track of your day, control your smart home devices, make calls, find recipes and more. Starting over the next week, we’re adding two new features that help you use the Assistant across all the devices in your life.

  • Routines: We first announced Routines last year, which help you get multiple things done with just a single command. In the coming weeks in the U.S., you’ll be able to use six routines that help with your morning, commutes to and from work, and evening at home. For example, say “Hey Google, I’m home” and the Assistant on your Google Home or phone can turn on the lights, share any home reminders, play your favorite music and more, all with just four words.
  • Location-based reminders: You can already set reminders based on a location with the Assistant on your phone. In the coming weeks, you’ll also be able to set them with your speaker. Want to make sure you pick up the milk at the grocery store? All you have to do is ask the Assistant on your smart speaker, like Google Home—and when you get to the store, the Assistant on your phone will remind you.

With more languages, more features and closer integrations with phone makers and carriers, the Assistant is getting better for you.