The man behind the Google Search curtain is coming out to explain a few things.
On Thursday, Google expanded the information that it attaches to search results to show users why they’re getting the website recommendations they receive. This includes the “matching keywords” and “related terms” associated with your search that show up in the result, as well as whether other pages reference that link, and if it makes sense for your local area.
Here’s the informational box Google will show you when you want to learn more about a search result.
Google doesn’t make a secret of the factors that go into its search rank algorithm — it spells everything out here. But showing how it applies that criteria to your specific query gives users a new, practical look under the Google hood. Google hopes that showing users this information will ultimately lead to finding better results. The panel will also include tips for how to improve searches, like suggesting more precise terms, or advising to put quotation marks around specific phrases.
It’s easy to access this information. When you initiate a Google search, the results that show up will have three vertical dots in the upper right-hand corner on the Google page. Clicking the three dots takes you to the “About this result” panel, which is where the search info lives.
Google first rolled out the “About this result” panel in February, but the information it contained was much sparer. It showed a Wikipedia highlight about the web page source (for example, “Mashable is a news and culture website”), said whether the result was secure, and highlighted whether the result was organic search or a paid ad. The update makes the panel much more robust and interactive (thanks to those tips).
Despite the previous smaller scope of the panel, Google told Mashable via email that the panels had been used “over 100 million times.” The company also noted that “our early data has indicated that people are more likely to consult these panels when looking for important information like health.” This is encouraging given the crisis of COVID and the spread of COVID vaccine misinformation.
The Google search algorithm is most certainly a complex beast. And with Google’s advancements in machine learning for surfacing results for increasingly nuanced queries, the world’s most popular source of information is only getting harder for a layperson to understand, and question.
But that’s why the new panel’s offerings are important: Giving even a (very simplified) window into its inner workings might help users become more active seekers of knowledge, as opposed to passive clickers on whichever website has gamed its Search Engine Optimization best. So keep pulling back that curtain, Google.