A reduction in irrelevant searches and a 60% increase in natural language queries by users: these are just some of the major changes that have occurred on Google in recent years according to Danny Sullivan, Search Liaison of the American company but, above all, one of the pioneers of the activity and dissemination SEO, which has just crossed the milestone of 25 years of career in the industry. To celebrate this important anniversary, Sullivan released an interview in which he tells precisely the evolutions of Google he witnessed, indicating the new trends and prospects towards which the search engine is going.

Danny Sullivan celebrates 25 years of his career in search marketing and SEO

Since 2017, Danny Sullivan has been Google’s Public Liaison for Search, the link between the search engine and users and, more precisely, the vast international SEO community: In practice, his job is to explain the details of Search to the world and tell the people who work in Search what the world says about it.

Danny Sulliva, Google's Public liaison for Search dal 2017

As Jennifer Kutz, who interviewed him for The Keyword blog, says, “on an average day you might find Danny answering questions on Twitter, making a presentation at an event, or responding to feedback somewhere on the Web”.

Before moving across the barricade, however, Sullivan followed the world of search engines for more than two decades and is considered one of the leading experts on the subject: to be precise, it’s been exactly 25 years since he launched Search Engine Watch, one of the first online publications on search engine marketing (still online, albeit with several proprietary steps), which was followed in 2006 by Search Engine Land (of which it is co-founder), vertical site among the best known and followed even today.

For these and other reasons, Sullivan is described as one of the “fathers” of the search engine marketing industry and is credited with spreading (if not creating itself) the term “search engine marketing”, as we already told in our study on SEO and the history of the word SEO.

Google Search, improvements in recent years

In short, Danny Sullivan is definitely the right observer (with inevitable bias for the position covered, let’s be clear) to ask how search engines have evolved over the years, both inside and outside Google, and according to him “most people may not realize how much work is needed to regularly improve Search”.

The numbers help us understand the scope of this commitment: in 2021 alone Google has made over 5000 improvements – a value constantly increasing, since the figure reported in 2019 was of 3200 changes and that in 2020 of about 4500 improvements – and after one decides to prepare a change “we carefully evaluate it with quantitative feedback from live experiments and qualitative feedback from our human reviewers”, launching it only if everything seems okay.

Also, still in 2021, Google conducted more than 800,000 experiments and continuous quality testings to ensure that the results provided and the changes launched “actually make the Search more useful for people” – someone questioned the figure, simply calculating that 800 thousand experiments in a year is equivalent to over 2 thousand interventions per day, a stratospheric figure even for a giant like Google (but the number could also include all the activity carried out automatically by the machines or minor and rapid interventions…).

Sullivan says he is quite confident that “this process is working” and reveals that in the last seven years “internal metrics based on quality raters data show that we have reduced the number of irrelevant results by more than 50%”.

A constantly evolving Search

Google Search is evolving along with the Web and the way people access Search itself: today there are more types of information, from augmented reality images to videos, and more features to help people find what they need, in the rich visual formats they desire.

Other search methods have also been introduced, such as visual search with Google Lens, about which Sullivan says that recently “during an excursion, I saw an insect on a flower, I pointed it with Lens and the system quickly identified what kind of bee it was”, something that “I could never have imagined when Search was just starting out”.

A less obvious way in which research has evolved is in understanding what people are looking for: the evolution of people’s search queries is becoming apparent particularly since 2019 “We have launched BERT, a neural network-based ranking improvement that can better understand natural language and longer queries,” and with the evolution of the search engine’s understanding of language through AI.

In practical terms, since 2015 “we have seen an increase of more than 60% of natural language queries in Research”, and this means that people “they can find what they need more easily and by using language closer to the way we normally write and talk,” Sullivan explains.

The different approach of users

What also changed was the users’ approach to search engines: in the nineties, says the Search Liaison, “if people did not find what they were looking for, they often felt that it was their fault and not the search engine”; today, however, “It seems that people are born knowing how to search” and “if they don’t find proper results to the query they blame the search engine”.

In the early stages of their history, in fact, search engines were not always able to handle queries in natural language and learning special search commands could sometimes lead to better results. Today instead “just type what you want in a magic box and poof! the results come out: no lessons are needed”, comments Sullivan, who then adds “maybe it’s because the Search has become so advanced that people’s trends have changed; being much easier to find what you need, people have developed higher and well-justified expectations!”.

The next evolutions of Google Search

The challenge is therefore very difficult, also because people may not remember “all the times when Google provides exactly what they are looking for, but they might notice the anomalous values, that is, the times when it does not respond well”, but this is still a positive factor, related to the fact that the search engine has built and gained a reputation as a reference to get accurate answers.

And the next steps should further strengthen this perception, which is also supported by an ever deeper understanding of the information and the world around us, made possible by the advances of AI applied to Search, which is leading to a transformation of what it means to seek. According to Sullivan, we will soon be able to search with images and text simultaneously using Google Lens, and this will allow us to know the physical world and ask questions about what we see in a more intuitive way.

In addition, it will also be possible to get help with all those questions that do not have a single answer: if now Google is very good at finding answers to simple questions, wants to support people to navigate more easily in topics with which they are not familiar or in which they do not even know where to start.

Search is never a problem solved

For this reason, and after a quarter of a century of reflection on Research, for Sullivan “the most exciting thing is that Search is never a solved problem” and “we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of how Google can help make information accessible and useful”.

And this is a warning for those who work in the field of search marketing as SEO specialist: Google is always evolving and if there is one thing we can expect from the search engine is constant change, which has the stated objective of improving the quality and relevance of the research and the results provided. And so, this implies that we too must keep up and improve the quality of content, taking the bar up without looking for easy shortcuts.