The degree to which user behavior affects Google’s search algorithms has been speculated over for some time, with the company characteristically reluctant to elaborate on the relationship. However, nearly instantaneous changes to trending search results has some SEOs convinced that Google’s automated systems do kick in when search intent shifts.
“Seeing [the intent behind a query change] over and over again, where something becomes newsworthy and it shifts the whole SERP [search engine results page] — Google’s not in there doing that; they’re not in there changing that every day,” said Dr. Pete Meyers, marketing scientist at Moz, during our search disruption session of Live with Search Engine Land.
In a Twitter discussion on this topic, long-time Google software engineer Paul Haahr responded to the idea that machine learning models adapt in such a way over the short term, saying that it was “interesting speculation” but not providing further detail on whether searcher behavior could have such an affect on Google’s algorithms.
“I think Google can be very specific with their answers,” Meyers said. “The idea that what’s happening with searcher behavior is not causing these shifts means that Google is in there writing that code for every intent, every day, and I can’t believe that’s what’s happening,” he said, noting that the nature of these changes is unlike what has occurred with coronavirus-related search results, in which sites are being rewritten frequently, inventory is constantly shifting and new stories are being published at a rapid rate, thus ruling out that the changes can be attributed to site updates.
Why we care. Understanding what kind of search results changes can be explained by shifting user intent and which changes may be due to an algorithm update helps us narrow down why we’re experiencing unexpected surges or dips in rankings, traffic or other page metrics. Anticipating new search behavior can also help us identify trending opportunities and create content that addresses what users are now, or will be, looking for.
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