Google Search Changes: Symbols, Profiles, Geo Data And More

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Apr 17, 2012

Google continues to make changes to the way it searches the web. Every month, they release a search quality highlights post that explains the changes in more general terms. That’s better than the alternative. Previously, sourcers would just stumble upon a new feature that was rolled out and never announced. That being said, it isn’t always exactly clear how much of a change was made or how to utilize the new search function.

We’ll try to pick the updates that are most applicable to sourcers and, when possible, let you know how to best utilize the new changes.

First up, symbol indexing gets a change (but don’t get too excited… yet).

Symbols in search

Maybe the more exciting developments was the addition of symbols to the search index. That left open the possibility of searching for e-mail addresses more effectively.

Unfortunately, as Irina Shamaeva points out, this was pointed at making Twitter more easily searchable rather than assisting sourcers in better connecting e-mail addresses to skills or people. There might be some good news buried in there though:

However, some us of have been noticing that some special characters are being recognized lately, in some special circumstances. It was not a surprise when Google posted a vague description of an update called Deep Maroon saying they have started to look for some characters: Improvements to handling of symbols for indexing….Based on analysis of our query stream, we’ve now started to index the following heavily used symbols: “%”, “$”, “”, “.”, “@”,“#”, and “+”.  Now everybody’s talking about Google searching for special symbols. But wait, it hasn’t quite happened yet!

Indeed, it looks as though searches are more focused on improving Twitter searches (likely from a dust up earlier this year when Google introduced better search integration with Google+). For example, the search for my Twitter handle with and without the @ sign included shows dramatic differences (as well as SourceCon with and without it’s hashtag). But when you hope to do the same with e-mail, it looks like a big box of nothing right now (see a search for * versus *

Better profile data, geographic and name searches

A couple other relevant changes were shared by Google in their search quality highlights as well:

  • Better indexing of profile pages. [launch codename “Prof-2”] This change improves the comprehensiveness of public profile pages in our index from more than two-hundred social sites.
  • Update to systems relying on geographic data. [launch codename “Maestro, Maitre”] We have a number of signals that rely on geographic data (similar to the data we surface in Google Earth and Maps). This change updates some of the geographic data we’re using.
  • Improvements to name detection. [launch codename “edge”, project codename “NameDetector”] We’ve improved a system for detecting names, particularly for celebrity names.

All of this is potentially useful for sourcers. More profile data to search, better improvements to geographic data when searching and improving detection for when you’re searching for a name versus something else could all be a nice set of incremental progress on the search front. Again, what profiles those searches encompass and how much the updates to geographic data and name detection really change results are going to be harder to tell.

Suggestions of bigger changes

While the incremental changes are great (and indicate that Google is open to sharing the ways it is adjusting its search), there is a suggestion that this is all a prelude to a bigger change. This post from TribePad shares some of their thoughts on the way it could change SEO for career sites, one has to wonder just how big of changes they are willing to make at once.

In reality, a more incremental approach might be better for all users. Consumers and power users often hate changes that dramatically change their expected results (even if those results are intrinsically better). Sites that rely on web search traffic and “being found” by Google bristle (for example, one website alleges that an update on Panda 3.4 killed their search traffic).

Have you seen any changes in your searches? Have any of them been substantial?

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