Google unveils AI-powered updates in Search

Posted by Edith MacLeod on 19 Oct, 2020
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Google announced a number of improvements to core search, with more to come, at their Search On 2020 event.

Google AI.

Google’s raft of announcements last week focused on how they were using advanced AI to improve Google services. 

These included fun new developments such as Humming for Search, but also several updates and new features which will impact on core Search, so rankings and SEO.

Google also revealed that BERT (using natural language processing to better understand context and meaning) is now used in “almost every query” in English, up from just 10% of US queries in English, when BERT was announced last year.


In what it described as a breakthrough, Google will be able to show individual passages from web pages, to hone in on the information the user is searching for.  The aim is to better cater for very specific searches where the relevant piece of information might be buried deep in a web page.

In other words, Google aims to find the most relevant piece of information to your query, even if it’s hidden in a single passage on a page and not necessarily the main topic of the page overall.

Google says it will improve 7% of search queries across all languages when fully rolled out globally, and gave this example of what it would look like:


Image source: Google

Google understands that the specific passage on the right is more relevant to the specific query than the broader information page on the left.

** Update 21st October: There was some confusion around whether or not Google will index individual passages, due to the wording on their blog post which said: “We’ve recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages.”

In series of tweets on the 20th, Google clarified that the technology enables them to surface content from within a page that otherwise might not be seen as relevant, NOT that individual passages would be indexed.  Google added that there was nothing content creators needed to do in respect of this change.



While pinpointing individual passages will help with specific searches, Subtopics will help with broad searches.

Google has started using AI to better understand subtopics around an area of interest and the nuance of a web page's content, meaning it can deliver a more diverse results for a broad search. 

“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.”


Image source: Google

This feature will start rolling out by the end of the year.


Another big development is that Google will be able jump directly to key parts of a video, without creators having to manually mark content. 

Google has been experimenting with a new AI-driven approach to understand videos more deeply, combining advanced computer vision and automatic speech recognition.

This lets Google tag key moments in a video, “so you can navigate them like chapters in a book”.  


Image source: Google

Google says it started testing this technology this year, and expects 10% of searches on Google will use this new technology by the end of 2020.

Visual search

Two shopping improvements using Google Lens and AR were described respectively by Google as “shop what you see”, and “see what you shop”.

From next month, you’ll be able to long press on an image in the Google app or Chrome, say a jumper you like the look of, and Lens will find the exact or similar items and also suggest ways to style it.


Image source: Google

Augmented Reality will allow users to check out details of a product up close. You can zoom in to see fine detail like a car’s upholstery, or check out what the car would look like in your drive. This feature is expected in the coming months.

Other announcements from Google included;

  • a new spelling algorithm, which Google says is their biggest improvement to spelling over the past 5 years
  • a Shazam-style feature where you can hum a tune and Google will identify it
  • improvements to Maps using the AI-powered Live View, so you’ll be able to point your phone at an establishment to bring up information such as opening hours

For more details see:

Google Search On 2020

Google’s AI powered features in detail:

Google's AI blog:

These improvements and new features certainly give searchers more options and easier ways to get to more relevant content. Site owners need to understand how these features work and optimize accordingly, while creating better, more relevant content.

Unsurprisingly, given the increasing concerns about big tech companies’ data misuse and privacy breaches, Google emphasised their robust privacy practices and security.  The developments also come against a backdrop of increasing disquiet over Google's dominance in many areas, and government debates on anti-trust and regulation.

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