Google recently published research on a technique to train a model to be able to solve natural language processing problems in a way that can be applied to multiple tasks. Rather than train a model to solve one kind of problem, this approach teaches it how to solve a wide range of problems, making it more efficient and advancing the state of the art.
Google Doesn’t Use All Research In Their Algorithms
Google’s official statement on research papers is that just because it publishes an algorithm doesn’t mean that it’s in use at Google Search.
Nothing in the research paper says it should be used in search. But what makes this research of interest is that it advances the state of the art and improves on current technology.
The Value Of Being Aware of Technology
People who don’t know how search engines work can end up understanding it in terms that are pure speculation.
That’s how the search industry ended up with false ideas such as “LSI Keywords” and nonsensical strategies such as trying to beat the competition by creating content that is ten times better (or simply bigger) than the competitor’s content, with zero consideration of what users might need and require.
The value in knowing about these algorithms and techniques is of being aware of the general contours of what goes on in search engines so that one does not make the error of underestimating what search engines are capable of.
The Problem That FLAN Solves
The main problem this technique solves is of enabling a machine to use its vast amount of knowledge to solve real-world tasks.
The approach teaches the machine how to generalize problem solving in order to be able to solve unseen problems.
It does this by feeding instructions to solve specific problems then generalizing those instructions in order to solve other problems.
The researchers state:
“The model is fine-tuned on disparate sets of instructions and generalizes to unseen instructions. As more types of tasks are added to the fine-tuning data model performance improves.
…We show that by training a model on these instructions it not only becomes good at solving the kinds of instructions it has seen during training but becomes good at following instructions in general.”
The research paper cites a current popular technique called “zero-shot or few-shot prompting” that trains a machine to solve a specific language problem and describes the shortcoming in this technique.
Referencing the zero shot/few shot prompting technique:
“This technique formulates a task based on text that a language model might have seen during training, where then the language model generates the answer by completing the text.
For instance, to classify the sentiment of a movie review, a language model might be given the sentence, “The movie review ‘best RomCom since Pretty Woman’ is _” and be asked to complete the sentence with either the word “positive” or “negative”.”
The researchers note that the zero shot approach performs well but that the performance has to be measured against tasks that the model has previously seen before.
The researchers write:
“…it requires careful prompt engineering to design tasks to look like data that the model has seen during training…”
And that kind of shortcoming is what FLAN solves. Because the training instructions are generalized the model is able to solve more problems including solving tasks it has not previously been trained on.
Could This Technique Be Used By Google?
Google rarely discusses specific research papers and whether or not what’s described is in use. Google’s official stance on research papers that it publishes many of them and that they don’t necessarily end up in their search ranking algorithm.
Google is generally opaque about what’s in their algorithms and rightly so.
Even when it announces new technologies Google tends to give them names that do not correspond with published research papers. For example, names like Neural Matching and Rank Brain don’t correspond with specific research papers.
It’s important to review the success of the research because some research falls short of their goals and don’t perform as well as current state of the art in techniques and algorithms.
Those research papers that fall short can more or less be ignored but they’re good to know about.
The research papers that are of most value to the search marketing community are those that are successful and perform significantly better than the current state of the art.
And that is the case with FLAN.
FLAN performs better than other techniques and for that reason FLAN is something to be aware of.
The researchers noted:
“We evaluated FLAN on 25 tasks and found that it improves over zero-shot prompting on all but four of them. We found that our results are better than zero-shot GPT-3 on 20 of 25 tasks, and better than even few-shot GPT-3 on some tasks.”
Natural Language Inference
Natural Language Inference Task is one in which the machine has to determine if a given premise is true, false or undetermined/neutral (neither true or false).
Natural Language Inference Performance of FLAN
This is a task of answering a question based on content in a document.
Reading Comprehension Performance of FLAN
This is the ability to answer questions with factual data, which tests the ability to match known facts with the questions. An example is answering questions like what color is the sky or who was the first president of the United States.
Closed Book QA Performance of FLAN
Is Google Using FLAN?
As previously stated, Google does not generally confirm whether they’re using a specific algorithm or technique.
However, the fact that this particular technique moves the state of the art forward could mean that it’s not unreasonable to speculate that some form of it could be integrated into Google’s algorithm, improving its ability to answer search queries.
This research was published on October 28, 2021.
Could some of this have been incorporated into the recent Core Algorithm Update?
Core algorithm updates are generally focused on understanding queries and web pages better and providing better answers.
One can only speculate as Google rarely shares specifics, especially with regard to core algorithm updates.
Image by Shutterstock
Roger Montti is a search marketer with 20 years experience.
I offer site audits and link building strategies.
How to Write For Google
Are you writing your SEO content based on the latest best practice tips?
I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012—my, how things have changed. Today, Google stresses quality content even more than before, conversational copy is critical, and there are revised SEO writing “rules.”
I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and to provide additional information.
As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story.
I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.
Items to review before you start your SEO writing project
– Do you have enough information about your target reader?
Your copy will pack a powerful one-two punch if your content is laser-focused on your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared to spend an hour or more asking detailed questions.
Here’s more information on customer personas.
– Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?
It’s essential to interview new clients and to learn more about their company, USP, and competition. Don’t forget to ask about industry buzzwords that should appear in the content.
Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 56 questions you can start with today.
– Writing a blog post? Get topic ideas from smart sources
When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends, and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.
– Did you use Google for competitive intelligence ideas?
Check out the sites positioning in the top-10 and look for common characteristics. How long are competing articles? Do the articles link out to authoritative sources? Are there videos or infographics? Do the articles include quotes from industry experts? Your job is to write an essay that’s better than what’s already appearing in the top-10 — so let the competition be your guide.
– Did you conduct keyphrase research?
Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.
Use a keyphrase research tool and find possible keyphrases for your page or post. As a hint: if you are tightly focusing on a topic, long-tail keyphrases are your best bet. Here’s more information about why long-tail keyphrases are so important.
If you are researching B2B keyphrases, know that the “traditional” keyphrase research steps may not apply. Here’s more information about what to do if B2B keyphrase research doesn’t work.
– What is your per-page keyphrase focus?
Writers are no longer forced to include the exact-match keyphrase over and over again. (Hurray!) Today, we can focus on a keyphrase theme that matches the search intent and weave in multiple related keyphrases.
– Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?
Don’t be afraid to include keyphrase synonyms and close variants on your page. Doing so opens up your positioning opportunities, makes your copy better, and is much easier to write!
Are you wondering if you should include your keyphrases as you write the copy — or edit them in later? It’s up to you! Here are the pros and cons of both processes.
— Do your keyphrases match the search intent?
Remember that Google is “the decider” when it comes to search intent. If you’re writing a sales page — and your desired keyphrase pulls up informational blog posts in Google – your sales page probably won’t position.
— Writing a blog post? Does your Title/headline work for SEO, social, and your readers?
Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase (or a close variant) in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.”
– Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?
Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can (slightly) help reinforce keyphrase relevancy.
As a hint, sometimes, you can write a question-oriented subheadline and slip the keyphrase in more easily. Here’s more information about why answering questions is a powerful SEO content play.
– Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?
Remember, the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Focusing too much on what you think Google “wants” may take away your Title’s conversion power.
Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. You have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so writing tight is essential.
– Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?
Yes, writers should create a meta description for every page. Why? Because they tell the reader what the landing page is about and help increase SERP conversions. Try experimenting with different calls-to-actions at the end, such as “learn more” or “apply now.” You never know what will entice your readers to click!
– Is your content written in a conversational style?
With voice search gaining prominence, copy that’s written in a conversational style is even more critical.
Read your copy out loud and hear how it sounds. Does it flow? Or does it sound too formal? If you’re writing for a regulated industry, such as finance, legal, or healthcare, you may not be able to push the conversational envelope too much. Otherwise, write like you talk.
Here’s how to explain why conversational content is so important.
–Is your copy laser-focused on your audience?
A big mistake some writers make is creating copy that appeals to “everyone” rather than their specific target reader. Writing sales and blog pages that are laser-focused on your audience will boost your conversions and keep readers checking out your copy longer. Here’s how one company does it.
Plus, you don’t receive special “Google points” for writing long content. Even short copy can position if it fully answers the searcher’s query. Your readers don’t want to wade through 1,500 words to find something that can be explained in 300 words.
Items to review after you’ve written the page
– Did you use too many keyphrases?
Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds keyphrase-heavy and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Your page doesn’t receive bonus points for exact-matching your keyphrase multiple times. If your page sounds keyphrase stuffed when you read it out loud, dial back your keyphrase usage.
– Did you edit your content?
Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important. Also, don’t think that adding typos will help your page position. They won’t.
– Is the content interesting to read?
Yes, it’s OK if your copy has a little personality. Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel and how to avoid the “yawn response.” Plus, know that even FAQ pages can help with conversions — and yes, even position.
– Are your sentences and paragraphs easy to read?
Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, edit them down and make them punchier. Your writing will have more impact if you do.
Plus, long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.
– Are you forcing your reader onto a “dead end” page?
“Dead-end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks and hurt your conversion goals.
Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead-end” Web pages.
– Does the content provide the reader with valuable information?
Google warns against sites with “thin,” low-quality content that’s poorly written. In fact, according to Google, spelling errors are a bigger boo-boo than broken HTML. Make sure your final draft is typo-free, written well, and thoroughly answers the searcher’s query.
Want to know what Google considers quality content — directly from Google? Here are Google’s Quality Raters guidelines for more information.
– Did you use bullet points where appropriate?
If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you, and the items will be much easier to read.
Plus, you can write your bullet points in a way that makes your benefit statements pop, front and center. Here’s how Nike does it.
– Is the primary CTA (call-to-action) clear–and is it easy to take action?
What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Buy something? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure you’re telling your reader what you want them to do, and make taking action easy. If you force people to answer multiple questions just to fill out a “contact us” form, you run the risk of people bailing out.
Here’s a list of seven CTA techniques that work.
– Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?)
Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Don’t bury your “sign up for our newsletter” button in the footer text. Instead, test different CTA locations (for instance, try including a newsletter signup link at the bottom of every blog post) and see where you get the most conversions.
– Does the page include too many choices?
It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTAs. If your page lists too many choices (for example, a large, scrolling page of products), consider eliminating all “unnecessary” options that don’t support your primary call-to-action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.
– Did you include benefit statements?
People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them (yes, even your B2B buyers.) Highly specific benefit statements will help your page convert like crazy. Don’t forget to include a benefit statement in your Title (whenever possible) like “free shipping” or “sale.” Seeing this on the search results page will catch your readers’ eyes, tempting them to click the link and check out your site.
– Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?
It’s incredible how many great sales pages are testimonial-free. Testimonials are a must for any site, as they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Plus, your testimonials can help you write better, more benefit-driven sales pages and fantastic comparison-review pages.
Here’s a way to make your testimonials more powerful.
And finally — the most important question:
– Does your content stand out and genuinely deserve a top position?
SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into the content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers), your content must stand out — not be a carbon copy of the current top-10 results. Take a hard look at your content and compare it against what’s currently positioning. Have you fully answered the searcher’s query? Did you weave in other value-added resources, such as expert quotes, links to external and internal resources (such as FAQ pages), videos, and graphics?
If so, congratulations! You’ve done your job.
Google Ads Serving Issue For Ads On Desktop Gmail
Google has a new serving issue with Google Ads that is impacting ad serving on the desktop version of Gmail. So if you are serving Google Ads on Gmail, your ads may not show to a “significant subset of users,” according to Google.
Google posted the incident over here and wrote “we’re aware of a problem with Google Ads affecting a significant subset of users. We will provide an update by Dec 24, 2021, 2:00 AM UTC detailing when we expect to resolve the problem. Please note that this resolution time is an estimate and may change. This issue is specific to ads serving on Gmail on Desktop browsers only.”
The issue again only impacts ads serving on Gmail on Desktop browsers only.
It started yesterday, December 23, 2021 at around 2pm ET and is still currently an issue. Google is working on resolving the issue but has yet to resolve it.
You can track the issue over here.
Forum discussion at Twitter.
Google Loses Top Domain Spot To TikTok
Google is no longer the world’s most popular domain after being dethroned by TikTok, according to rankings from web security company Cloudflare. The list of most popular domains is part of Cloudflare’s Year in Review report and represents domains that gained the most traffic from one year to another.
Google.com — which includes also includes Maps, Translate, and News among others — ended the previous year as the leader in Cloudflare’s rankings. At that time, TikTok was ranking in the 7th position. TikTok.com is now ending 2021 with a leap toward top spot ahead of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other world leading domains.
Here’s the full list of the top 10 most popular domains as of late 2021:
Cloudflare describes TikTok’s journey toward becoming the most popular domain throughout the year 2021:“It was on February 17, 2021, that TikTok got the top spot for a day.
Back in March, TikTok got a few more days and also in May, but it was after August 10, 2021, that TikTok took the lead on most days. There were some days when Google was #1, but October and November were mostly TikTok’s days, including on Thanksgiving (November 25) and Black Friday (November 26).”
Also included in Cloudflare’s report are lists of the most popular social media domains, most popular e-commerce platforms, and most popular video streaming sites. To no surprise, Amazon ended the year as the most popular e-commerce domain, followed by Taobao, Ebay, and Walmart.
The list of most popular video streaming sites was dominated by giants such as Netflix, YouTube, and HBOMax. Interestingly, Twitch didn’t manage to crack the top 10.
Putting These Rankings In PerspectiveDoes this mean TikTok is now the biggest social media site? No, it still has a long way to go before reaching those heights. What this means is TikTok.com received more traffic than any other domain, according to Cloudflare. That doesn’t mean TikTok has more users than Google or competing social media sites. Insider Intelligence (formerly eMarketer) reports TikTok surpassed Snapchat and Twitter in global user numbers, but is well behind Facebook and Instagram.
In other words, TikTok is the third largest social media platform worldwide. The number of global TikTok users number grew 59.8% in 2020, and went up by an additional 40.8% in 2021.Further, Insider Intelligence estimates TikTok will see a 15.1% growth in global users in 2022.
Should that estimate hold true, TikTok will hold a 20% share of overall social media users by the end of next year.
If TikTok isn’t part of your social media marketing strategy for 2022, these numbers are a good case for making it a priority.
Source: Matt Southern
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