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Google Announces New Search Updates, Including Improved Contextual Matches and Subtopics

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Google has announced a range of new updates for search, which provide varying levels of functionality for brands, and are worth noting within your SEO approach.

The main focus, of course, is on helping people find the information they need, so they’re not specifically aligned with brand queries. But some of them will be search considerations – here’s a look at each new element and what it could mean for marketers.

1. Spelling recommendation improvements

Spelling your query right will help provide you with more accurate search results, and Google says that it’s improved its spelling predictions to help users find better matches.

Google search update

As explained by Google:

“We’ve continued to improve our ability to understand misspelled words, and for good reason – one in 10 queries every day are misspelled. Today, we’re introducing a new spelling algorithm that uses a deep neural net to significantly improve our ability to decipher misspellings. In fact, this single change makes a greater improvement to spelling than all of our improvements over the last five years.”

From an SEO standpoint, this won’t be a significant consideration, given that it will only help users find the right query for their search. But, of course, you should ensure that your web pages are spell-checked.

It won’t be a make or break element, but incorrect spelling could lose you search opportunities.

2. Identifying passages of text

Google’s search algorithm will now also be able to index individual passages of text within web pages, in order to locate more specific information on a site relative to a user query.

Google search update

Google’s been moving in this direction for a while, highlighting specific text matches in featured snippets, and even video segments, within some search queries. Now, this will be made more widely available.

“By better understanding the relevancy of specific passages, not just the overall page, we can find that needle-in-a-haystack information you’re looking for. This technology will improve 7% of search queries across all languages as we roll it out globally.”

Again, this is probably not a major SEO consideration, as it will be relative to each query – you should answer common questions as best you can in the hopes of matching audience demand. But it could change where your pages are ranked for each query, which could subsequently impact your performance stats. 

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And as Search Engine Land noted earlier in the year, it may also have an impact on ad placement.

With this, searchers may skip down past ads and/or call to actions to jump directly to the relevant content. SEOs should take measures to track if your site is doing this in Google search, and possibly replace your ads/call to actions in a more appropriate location.”

That would be particularly relevant for high-volume pages seeing impacts from this update.

3. Hum to search

Google’s also trying to do a bit of Shazam-type trick, with its audio algorithms now able to identify popular songs based on people humming or whistling to the search app.

As Google explains:

Starting today, you can hum, whistle or sing a melody to Google to solve your earworm. On your mobile device, open the latest version of the Google app, tap the mic icon and say “what’s this song?” or click the “Search a song” button. Then start humming for 10-15 seconds. On Google Assistant, it’s just as simple. Say “Hey Google, what’s this song?” and then hum the tune.”

Google’s algorithm will then identify potential song matches, based on your tune.

The SEO value of this one is very limited, though those in the music industry may find some interesting data based on hum/whistle based searches. Maybe, if people are searching by hum a lot for a certain track, they may need to consider re-naming the track for discoverability – which has already happened for some songs due to TikTok queries.

4. Subtopics in search queries

Google’s also adding subtopics for search queries – though how exactly they’ll appear is a little unclear at this stage.

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“We’ve applied neural nets to understand subtopics around an interest, which helps deliver a greater diversity of content when you search for something broad. As an example, if you search for “home exercise equipment,” we can now understand relevant subtopics, such as budget equipment, premium picks, or small space ideas, and show a wider range of content for you on the search results page. We’ll start rolling this out by the end of this year.”

Based on this, it looks like Google is going to show users more subtopics as clickable options within search results, which could be an important SEO consideration, as you’ll need to match your listings to each relevant category, based on commonly used filters, terms, etc.

As Google notes, we’ll get more information on this soon, and it could be a key element to watch.

5. Key moments in videos

As noted, Google has been working on indexing certain sections of YouTube videos for some time, and it’s now looking to make this a more accessible option within search queries.

Google video section indexing

Using a new AI-driven approach, we’re now able to understand the deep semantics of a video and automatically identify key moments. This lets us tag those moments in the video, so you can navigate them like chapters in a book. Whether you’re looking for that one step in a recipe tutorial, or the game-winning home run in a highlights reel, you can easily find those moments. We’ve started testing this technology this year, and by the end of 2020 we expect that 10% of searches on Google will use this new technology.”

This aligns with YouTube’s video chapters, which it rolled out to all creators back in May. With video chapters, creators are able to add in descriptions relative to each segment of their video via timestamps, which could help provide Google with more context as to the content in each part.

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Though this also takes that capacity a step further – as Google notes, it’s using AI to automatically identify segments of videos as well, so in combination, it could actually develop a significant data bank of video segments for queries. 

Even with Google’s AI doing its part, I would suggest that adding your own segment tags would be of benefit – you can learn how to do that here.

In addition to these five major updates, Google’s also adding new COVID-19 tools for businesses, which will display more specific information about opening hours, updated requirements, etc., as well as improved statistic searches, new tools for journalists, and – maybe of particular note for marketers – new AR search features for products, which are still in their early stages. 

As noted, most of these won’t have a significant impact on general SEO approaches, though that does depend on how specific you’re focusing, and how sensitive your results are to variations. For some, these changes will have an impact on ranking, which may influence traffic flow, but they seemingly won’t lead to major shifts in performance.

But it’ll come down to your own monitoring – if you’re keeping a close eye on your search results, it’ll be worth honing in on variations over the next few months to determine the specific cause, and if/how you can better align your pages as a result. 

You can read more about Google’s latest search updates here.

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China accused of interference as Australia PM’s WeChat account vanishes

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened his WeChat account in 2019 ahead of Australian elections that year


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened his WeChat account in 2019 ahead of Australian elections that year – Copyright NO BYELINE/AFP STRINGER

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s WeChat account has disappeared, prompting accusations of Chinese “interference” from senior members of his government Monday.

Morrison’s account on the Chinese social media app, which was launched in February 2019, appears to have been replaced with one titled “Australian Chinese new life.”

WeChat is the overwhelmingly dominant messaging and social media platform in China, where Western services such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter are blocked.

There was no immediate comment from Morrison but a senator from his ruling centre-right Liberal Party accused Beijing of being behind the change.

“What the Chinese government has done by shutting down the prime minister’s account is effectively foreign interference in our democracy,” James Paterson told 2GB radio on Monday.

Paterson called on Australian politicians to boycott WeChat in response.

According to the account’s about page, the “Australian Chinese new life” name was registered on October 28, 2021.

But the account has posts dating back to February 1, 2019, including Morrison’s first, which reads: “I’m very happy to open my official WeChat account”.

AFP has contacted WeChat’s parent company Tencent for comment.

Morrison first launched his WeChat account to communicate with Australia’s sizable Chinese-Australian community ahead of elections in 2019.

That year, Morrison was asked by reporters whether there was a risk his account could be censored by the Chinese Communist Party.

“We haven’t experienced any such censorship,” he said.

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In December 2020, WeChat removed a post from Morrison that defended Australia’s investigation into allegations of war crimes perpetrated by Australian soldiers.

The post also criticised Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who had tweeted a fake image of an Australian soldier holding a knife.

The last post on the “Australian Chinese new life” account is from July 9, 2021.

The Daily Telegraph reported Morrison has been locked out of his account since then.

All of the posts on the “Australian Chinese new life” account relate to Australian government announcements or messages from Morrison.



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TikTok’s Working on a New, Opt-In Function to Show You Who Viewed Your Profile

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TikTok's Working on a New, Opt-In Function to Show You Who Viewed Your Profile


I’m not entirely sure what value this might bring, but TikTok is reportedly working on bringing back the option to see who viewed your profile in the app over the preceding 30 days, which would provide more transparency over user interest.

As you can see in these screenshots, uncovered by app researcher Kev Adriano (and shared by Matt Navarra), TikTok looks to be testing an opt-in functionality that would enable you to see who’s checking out your TikTok profile, while users would also be able to see when you’ve checked out their profile as well when this feature is switched on.

Which TikTok used to have, as a means to increase connections in the app.

TikTok profile views notification

As you can see here, TikTok used to provide a listing of people who’d checked out your profile, with a view to helping you find others to follow who may have similar, shared interests. TikTok removed the functionality early last year, amid various investigations into its data sharing processes, and with several high-profile cases of TikTok stalkers causing real-world problems for platform stars, it made sense that it might not want to share this information anymore, as it likely only increases anxiety for those who may have concerns.

But I guess, if stalkers wanted to check out your profile they wouldn’t turn the feature on, so maybe, by making it opt-in, that reduces that element? Maybe.

I don’t know, I don’t see a heap of value here, and while I can understand, when an app is starting out, how this sort of awareness might help to increase network connections, I’m not sure that it serves any real value for TikTok, other than providing insight into who’s poking around, and likely increasing concerns about certain people who keep coming back to check out your profile again and again.

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Maybe there’s a value for aspiring influencers, in reaching out to potential collaborators who’ve checked out their stuff, or maybe it works for hook-ups, if that’s what you want to use TikTok for, which is why the opt-in element is important.

But much like the same feature on LinkedIn, mostly, it seems pretty useless. I mean, it’s somewhat interesting to know that somebody from a company that you’d like to work for checked out your profile, but if they did, and they didn’t feel compelled to get in touch, who really cares?

There is a limited value proposition here, in that getting in touch with those who did check out your profile could result in a business relationship, similar to the above note on potential collaborators on TikTok. But I’d be interested to see the actual percentage of successful contacts made is as a result of these insights.

I can’t imagine it’s very high – but maybe, if you give users the choice, and they explicitly opt-in, there is some value there.

Seems like stalker tracking to me, and potential angst and conflict as a result.

There’s no official word from TikTok as to whether this option will ever be released at this stage.





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‘Flurona’ is a great example of how misinformation can circulate

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'Flurona' is a great example of how misinformation can circulate


This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Image captured and colorized at NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana.
Source – NIAID, CC SA 2.0.

In early January, Israel confirmed its first case of an individual infected with both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 at the same time, authorities reported. The two infections were found in an unvaccinated pregnant woman who had mild symptoms.

At the rime, the Times of Israel said, “Some reports suggested this marked the first such dual case in the world, but reports of patients with both flu and COVID-19 surfaced in the US as early as spring 2020.”

And it was the Times of Israel that helped the story to go viral by using a catchy, made-up name – “flurona” – and reporting that this is the “first” such case in the country, which some people read as the first case ever.

One news outlet went about amplifying the anecdotal report into “a new nightmare to keep us awake at night.” All the hype over this supposedly new and nightmarish disease did nothing more than fuel the amount of misinformation already bogging down social media platforms.

Scientific American suggests that physicians and scientists just don’t seem to be able to get the right message across to the public about what is real, what is treatable, and what is downright false.

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Yes, you can catch the flu and Covid

Let’s look back a bit to the start of the pandemic. In March 2020, hospitals were being overrun with patients. At that time, COVID testing was still rather sluggish and expensive. So doctors often ordered several tests for patients, trying to identify — or eliminate from suspicion — other possible infections.   

And yes, any number of patients were found to have not only COVID-19 but nearly 5 percent of patients tested had another viral respiratory infection, too. At first, doctors worried more for these patients, whose immune systems were fighting two battles at once. 

“What we found was actually that patients who had Covid plus another infection — they had lower rates of inflammation in their body and were less likely to be admitted to the hospital,” said Dr. Sarah Baron, a physician who helped author a study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy to describe the findings.

While the study was small in the number of patients involved, it may offer an intriguing look at how one virus suppresses the effects of another – something called viral interference.

Researchers have known about viral interference since the 1960s when a group of scientists noticed that a live vaccine against polio and other enteroviruses also seemed to protect against unrelated viral respiratory diseases like influenza.  

For the week ending December 25, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 6.2 percent of people tested for flu were positive, and 1,825 people were admitted to U.S. hospitals with flu that week.

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So I would suggest to everyone that first – remember there are many reliable news sources on the Internet. Secondly, if a story you read sounds outrageous, take a few minutes to research it. You may just find out how inaccurate it may be.



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