Hurricane Irma was the No. 1 top trending Google search in the US & globally for 2017

Google has released its “Year in Search” for 2017, offering up more than 40 top 10 lists for searches in the US and globally. The search terms are ranked based on the top trending searches that saw the highest spike in traffic over a sustained period in 2017 compared to 2016.

In the US, the No. 1 top trending search term was “Hurricane Irma” — it also ranked No. 1 on the top trending global searches and top news searches in 2017.

In addition to “Hurricane Irma,” “Hurricane Harvey” also showed up in the top overall searches and top news searches in the US, as did “Las Vegas Shooting” and “Solar Eclipse.”

“Many of our trending questions centered around the tragedies and disasters that touched every corner of the world,” says Google, “In these moments and others, our collective humanity shined as we asked ‘how to help’ more than ever before.”

For US top searches, Google released a number of categories, covering everything from the top searches overall to the top searched people, athletes, how-to searches, actors, movies, consumer tech, and even the top searched celebrity breakups of the year.

Former Today Show news anchor, Matt Lauer, who was fired in November by NBC over alleged inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace, was the No. 2 top searched term overall in the US, as well as the No. 1 top searched person, followed by Meghan Markle.

Markle ranked as the No. 1 top searched actor, most likely the result of her engagement to England’s Prince Harry, which was announced in late November.

The top how-to search was “How to make slime,” and the top athlete search was Floyd Mayweather. The iPhone 8 beat the iPhone X for top searched consumer tech, and the top searched celebrity breakup of 2017 was “Ben Higgins and Lauren Bushnell breakup.”

Here is a selection of Google’s year-in-search lists from the US:

Top 10 searches overall

    Hurricane IrmaMatt LauerTom PettySuper BowlLas Vegas ShootingMayweather vs. McGregor FightSolar EclipseHurricane HarveyAaron HernandezFidget Spinner

Top 10 people searches

    Matt LauerMeghan MarkleHarvey WeinsteinMichael FlynnKevin SpaceyBill O’ReillyMelania TrumpKathy GriffinMilo YiannopoulosGal Gadot

Top 10 news searches

    Hurricane IrmaLas Vegas ShootingSolar EclipseHurricane HarveyBitcoin PriceNorth KoreaHurricane JoseHurricane MariaApril the GiraffeDACA

Top 10 consumer tech searches

    iPhone 8iPhone XNintendo SwitchSamsung Galaxy S8Razer PhoneiPhone 8 PlusSuper NES ClassicGoogle Pixel 2Apple Watch 3Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Top 10 how-to searches

    How to make slimeHow to make solar eclipse glassesHow to watch the solar eclipseHow to watch Mayweather vs McGregorHow to buy BitcoinHow to freeze your creditHow to solve a Rubix CubeHow to make a fidget spinnerHow to cook a turkey in the ovenHow to screen record

Top 10 celebrity breakups in 2017

    Ben Higgins and Lauren Bushnell breakupMalika Haqq and Ronnie Magro breakupDutchess and Caesar breakupAaron Rodgers and Olivia Munn breakupKylie Jenner and Tyga breakupLindsey Stirling and Ryan Weed breakupChris Pratt and Anna Faris breakupNick Viall and Vanessa Grimaldi breakupAmy Schumer and Ben Hanisch breakupLady Gaga and Taylor Kinney breakup

For global searches, Google put together 15 different categories of the top trending search terms. Many mirrored the results of the top searches in the US, with “Hurricane Irma” at the top of the list for global searches overall and “Matt Lauer” leading the top searched people list.

The top searched global news story was “Hurricane Irma.” This list was nearly the same as the US version, except it included a search for “Manchester” in place of “DACA.”

Top 10 Searches (Global)

    Hurricane IrmaiPhone 8iPhone XMatt LauerMeghan Markle13 Reasons WhyTom PettyFidget SpinnerChester BenningtonIndia National Cricket Team

Top 10 people searches (global)

    Matt LauerMeghan MarkleNadia ToffaHarvey WeinsteinKevin SpaceyGal GadotMelania TrumpFloyd MayweatherMichael FlynnPhilippe Coutinho

Top 10 news searches (global)

    Hurricane IrmaBitcoinLas Vegas ShootingNorth KoreaSolar EclipseHurricane HarveyManchesterHurricane JoseHurricane MariaApril the Giraffe

You can find Google’s full list of 2017’s top US searches and global searches on the Google Trends website.

Have a question about Will Ferrell? Google may show you a video response directly from him

Curious if Will Ferrell can actually play the drums? Or if Tracee Ellis Ross can sing? Now, when you ask Google a question about a specific celebrity, you may get a self-recorded video from them answering your question.

“When you search for your favorite personalities, whether they’re rising stars or well-known celebs, their answers will appear in the form of selfie-style videos with a uniquely personal, authentic and delightful touch,” according to Google’s The Keyword blog.

Google has taken the most often asked questions about a select number of celebrities and had the celebrities record their answer so that they can now be served up for mobile searches related to the query.

The new feature is currently only available in the US and only works on mobile. It also applies to a very select list of well-known personalities. Google says it is piloting the feature with self-recorded video answers from the following list of celebrities:

Priyanka ChopraWill FerrellTracee Ellis RossGina RodriguezKenan ThompsonAllison WilliamsNick JonasMark WahlbergJames FrancoSeth MacFarlaneJonathan YeoDominique Ansel

According to the announcement, this new feature is a “snapshot of what’s to come,” and more videos are likely to be added during the upcoming months.

Yahoo parent sues Mozilla for replacing it with Google as Firefox default search

Roughly three years ago, Yahoo and Mozilla announced that Yahoo would be the default search engine on Firefox in the US. That relationship ended early when Mozilla released the much-improved Firefox Quantum browser last month, with Google as the default search provider.

Now, Yahoo’s parent company, Oath (Verizon), is suing Mozilla for breach of contract. Oath says that Mozilla “terminated a long-term strategic agreement with Yahoo” on November 10. Yahoo adds that prior to filing suit, it “demanded that Mozilla take immediate steps to cure its breaches and rescind its termination notice.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified money damages and interest from Mozilla. We haven’t seen the contract, but Mozilla’s rationale for termination is pretty clearly laid out in a cross-complaint against Yahoo/Oath, claiming that it had a right to terminate the relationship under the contract:

We recently exercised our contractual right to terminate our agreement with Yahoo based on a number of factors including doing what’s best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search, and the broader content experience for our users.

Immediately following Yahoo’s acquisition, we undertook a lengthy, multi-month process to seek assurances from Yahoo and its acquirers with respect to those factors. When it became clear that continuing to use Yahoo as our default search provider would have a negative impact on all of the above, we exercised our contractual right to terminate the agreement and entered into an agreement with another provider.

Mozilla’s response and counterclaim indicate there was a clause that gave the company an out if certain conditions existed or didn’t continue to exist. The dispute in court will likely boil down to a factual determination of whether Mozilla’s concerns were legitimate and supported by evidence.

Mozilla basically says that Yahoo failed to uphold search quality standards that it promised to maintain at the time of the initial agreement in 2014. Below is an excerpt from some of the interesting factual allegations in the redacted Mozilla filing:

Yahoo Search consistently failed to retain users and search volume over time, reducing the potential revenue [for Mozilla] under the Strategic Agreement. Rather than focus on improving the quality of its search product, as Yahoo assured Mozilla it would prior to entering into the deal, Yahoo continually focused on short-term monetization and special events such as the Olympics and the election, at the expense of product quality . . .

These issues began early in the relationship. As early as January 2015, Mozilla began discussions with Yahoo on the shortcomings of the quality of the search product . . . Mozilla determined in January 2015 that the user experience Yahoo Search provided was sub-par [and] identified “five areas I’d like to push Yahoo! on of the next few weeks.” … In no particular order, these issues affecting search quality included the relevancy of advertisements served on users, aggressive autocorrect, sub-par relevancy results, the content of answers, and the basis for triggering particular content.

Mozilla continued these types of discussions with Yahoo in March 2015, reiterating that Mozilla “wants improvement for both parties to grow marketshare,” but the “current experience is causing users to move.”

Mozilla cites third-party data that asserts that during the term of the agreement, Firefox lost market share to Chrome. It attributes this (at least in part) to Yahoo search. Yahoo/Oath will likely argue that issues with the browser experience (e.g., speed and performance) were to blame instead. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Firefox’s market share is about 13 percent to Chrome’s nearly 59 percent. Yahoo search market share is roughly 12 percent to Google’s 63 percent.

Google Lens an impressive start for 'visual search'

Google Lens has gone live or is about to on Pixel phones in the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, India and Singapore (in English). Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been using it extensively and have had mostly positive results — though not always.

Currently, Lens can read text (e.g., business cards), identify buildings and landmarks (sometimes), provide information on artwork, books and movies (from a poster) and scan barcodes. It can also identify products (much of the time) and capture and keep (in Google Keep) handwritten notes, though it doesn’t turn them into text.

To use Lens, you tap the icon in the lower right of the screen when Google Assistant is invoked. Then you tap the image or object or part of an object you want to scan.

As a barcode scanner, it works nearly every time. In that regard, it’s worthy and a more versatile substitute for Amazon’s app and just as fast or faster in many cases. If there’s no available barcode, it can often correctly identify products from their packaging or labels. It also does very well identifying famous works of art and books.

Google Lens struggled most with buildings and with products that didn’t have any labeling on them. For example (below), it was rather embarrassingly unable to identify an Apple laptop as a computer, and it misidentified Google Home as “aluminum foil.”

When Lens gets it wrong it asks you to let it know. And when it’s uncertain but you affirm its guess, you can get good information.

I tried Lens on numerous well-known buildings in New York, and it was rarely able to identify them. For example, the three buildings below (left to right) are New York City Hall, the World Trade Center and the Oculus transportation hub. (In the first case, if you’re thinking, he tapped the tree and not the building, I took multiple pictures from different angles, and it didn’t get one right.)

I also took lots of pictures of random objects (articles of clothing, shoes, money) and those searches were a bit hit-and-miss, though often, when it missed it was a near-miss.

As these results indicate, Google Lens is far from perfect. But it’s much much better than Google Goggles ever was, and it will improve over time. Google will also add capabilities that expand use cases.

It’s best right now for very specific uses, which Google tries to point out in its blog post. One of the absolute best uses is capturing business cards and turning them into contacts on your phone.

Assuming that Google is committed to Lens and continues investing in it, over time it could become a widely adopted alternative to traditional mobile and voice search. It might eventually also drive considerable mobile commerce.

Google officially increases length of snippets in search results

Google has confirmed with Search Engine Land that it has made a change to the way it displays snippets in search results. A snippet is the description of a page shown below the URL in an organic search result that helps show how it relates to the search query.

A Google spokesperson told us:

We recently made a change to provide more descriptive and useful snippets, to help people better understand how pages are relevant to their searches. This resulted in snippets becoming slightly longer, on average.

Here is a screen shot highlighting the description snippet of a Google search result:

Over the past week or so, many have been noticing that the snippets were longer than what’s typically been shown.

RankRanger has been tracking these as well, and according to its tools, the snippet length has grown from 160 characters to almost 230 characters on average. Here is the growth chart:

Some webmasters and SEOs may consider updating their meta descriptions, but I don’t believe Google would recommend doing so. The snippets are more often dynamically generated based on the user query and content found in both the meta description and the content visible on the page. If Google is going to go with a longer snippet, it likely will pull that content from the page.

Google Local Questions & Answers now rolling out to desktop search

Google shared that the local Question & Answer feature that rolled out back in August is now available on desktop search.

Google said they are “expanding Questions & Answers on Google My Business.” This enables both searchers and business owners to ask and answer questions from their desktop, on mobile search or on Android Google Maps.

We're expanding Questions & Answers on Google My Business. Now, users and merchants can ask and respond to questions from their desktop, on mobile search, or on Android Google Maps.

— Google My Business (@GoogleMyBiz) December 1, 2017

You can see the Q&A feature now on desktop for most local knowledge cards. For example, if you search for [google mountain view] you will see on the right side of the search page a local knowledge card for the main Google office. In that card is a section for “questions & answers” with the ability to click on the “ask a question” button.

Here is a screen shot:

When you click on the questions, it brings up an overlay to scroll through them all:

Google has been testing this on desktop for a few months, and now it is officially live. Although some local cards will not see these sections because of spam and moderation issues.

Google brings local lead generation to Google Assistant and Google Home

Google is bringing new forms of local search to the Google Assistant and Google Home. The company announced it’s working with local home service providers “like HomeAdvisor and Porch.”

On any platform where Google Assistant is available, users will be able to ask for contractors (e.g., “Ok Google find me a plumber”). That initiates a structured interaction which generates a lead or contact with a local service provider.

In the case of IAC-owned HomeAdvisor, which now also owns Angie’s List, users can ask to be connected by phone at the end of the process to a contractor or receive a list of relevant, pre-screened contractors. The following graphic depicts part of the user experience and the structured Q&A that’s used to refine the lead.

This is a highly structured local search and lead-generation experience that will bypass conventional search results (i.e., business listings). Google said the new functionality would be rolling out in the next week or so.

Google itself offers local lead generation for contractors and service providers with Local Services ads that appear in search results. What’s unclear is how providers from HomeAdvisor, Porch (and perhaps Google) will be prioritized or presented for a given query.

In its blog post, Google didn’t say anything about its own advertisers or how many third-party directories might eventually be involved. There’s also no word on whether Google will collect a share of the lead price or any sort of “toll” otherwise.

Currently, if you ask Google Home for a local service provider (e.g., “I need a house painter”) you’ll get three “thin” listings with address information but little else. The coming experience will supplant that, offering a more personalized result based the specific request and subsequent information provided.

Because it’s not yet live, we don’t know how well it will work. It has the potential to be effective both for the consumer and the contractor. Generally speaking, this is going to be bottom-of-the-funnel activity.

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Google adds a donate button directly into search for US-based nonprofits

As we near the holidays, Google is making it easier to support your favorite nonprofit organization by adding a donate button directly in search.

The new feature was announced yesterday. Google says a number of US-based nonprofits now have the “Donate” option available so that when you search for organizations like Direct Relief, you’ll be able to make a donation straight from the search results page.

In the example above, the screen shot to the right is the organic result that appears with the new “Donate” button after scrolling past the ads that appear in the screenshot shown on the left.

Google says that when you tap the donate button, “… you’ll see an easy donation flow that lets you give to your favorite organization as easily as you can look up its history, phone number, or website.”

The organizations currently using the donate button represent a variety of causes and locations across the US. According to Google, they were able to opt-in to the feature via the Google for Nonprofits initiative. (Google directs nonprofits to its Google for Nonprofits website to learn more about the donate button.)

The rollout of the donate button comes at a time when Google says nearly 30 percent of all giving happens — during the holidays.

“We’ve seen people’s generosity throughout 2017, especially in times of crisis and need. And earlier this year, we made a commitment to continue to bring the best of our people, products, and philanthropy to make an impact and help create opportunity for everyone,” says Google product manager, Prem Ramaswami, in The Keyword blog post announcing the feature.

The changing SERP: Understanding and adapting to dynamic search results

Consumer search behaviors are changing rapidly. According to a recent report from BrightEdge (disclaimer: my employer), 57 percent of searches now begin with a mobile device, and last year Google revealed that voice search has increased to about 20 percent of all Google mobile search queries.

And of course, Google is constantly adjusting their SERP layout in order to better align with a searcher’s context and expectations. Consumers now expect to see rich content in SERPs that includes not just standard text listings, but video, images, local map results, featured snippets and more. The standard organic listings themselves also sometimes feature rich snippets, which enhance the listing by presenting information in a way that is easy to scan and often visually appealing.

Paid search ads have changed as well — in 2015, Google doubled the size of its highly visual product listing ads (PLAs), and last year they announced that up to four search ads could appear for “highly commercial queries,” whereas previously the maximum had been three. Even if you aren’t involved in paid search, it’s important to keep track of any changes that impact the overall SERP layout and design, as these changes may affect the way users engage with organic listings.

These seismic shifts in the industry have a profound impact on SEO. Although my company has observed that the overall share of organic traffic for websites remains the same as it was in 2014 (51 percent of all incoming traffic, on average), this stability didn’t come easily — and it will become harder to defend this level of organic traffic contribution. Marketers now need to consider how content is evaluated and displayed on a variety of devices so they can attract more clicks from the right search user at the right time.

How have these shifts impacted SEO?

The shift from the classic “10 blue links” SERP of the old days to the more dynamic and visually appealing SERPs of today has had a huge impact on how SEO practitioners do their jobs. In the old days, you would create text content for a webpage with the aim of having it rank well in the SERP for your chosen keyword. Now, you must take into account how different content types will rank in different sections of the SERP on different devices and for users in different locations. Ideally, you will also consider how to present or mark up this content so that you can make the most of your listings with visual enhancements like rich snippets.

For example, let’s say that you manage a website for a business that sells cameras, and on that site is a page about SLR cameras. Many years ago, when the SERP showed just 10 blue links, you would seek to maximize organic search performance by creating high-quality, authoritative text content about SLR cameras. If you were really advanced, you would optimize this one piece of content across three devices (desktop, mobile and tablet) — three permutations in total.

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Keep up with all the developments in SEO and beyond!

Fast forward to today. You still have your camera website and your webpage about SLR cameras. However, terms related to SLR cameras now bring up a variety of different result types, depending on the keyword variation. You decide that in addition to your existing text content about SLR cameras, you want to create other types of content to capture different areas of the SERP: high-quality product images (for image results), a video about SLR cameras (for video results), information on your local storefront (for the local 3-pack), and a question-and-answer section (for a featured snippet).

Each of these four content elements, in addition to your standard text content, could win a spot on SERP for the same keywords you were targeting and ranking for years ago. Suddenly, you need to deal with five content types across three devices — 15 permutations in total. That’s a lot more content to produce, optimize and track in order to maximize organic search performance.

Add to this the fact that ads are getting larger and more numerous — thereby reducing above-the-fold visibility for organic listings — and you can see how SEO has become an increasingly challenging endeavor over the years.

How can SEOs better focus their efforts?

Unless you work at a large company with unlimited resources, you’re going to have to make some tough choices about where to focus your SEO and content marketing efforts.

One way to inform this decision is to examine what content type is most likely to win the top spot on the SERP for your most important target keywords. For instance, “sports apparel” will likely to have local 3-pack above organic web listings, while “hawaii vacation” has more PPC results occupying top SERP positions.

This type of visual parsing is going to be a key way for search marketers to sustain and improve their organic search performance because Google is never going to show a one-size-fits-all SERP anymore. Marketers will need to analyze the ranking position of every content element on SERPs for their target keywords. They will also need to understand intent signals to see if a keyword produces SERPs with local results — or with any organic listings above the fold at all.

Conclusion

Search engine optimization has grown more challenging and complex over the years, and marketers must now look beyond pure ranking position on the SERP if they want to succeed. By closely examining SERPs to discover the types of content present, where each content type is displayed/positioned, and how much real estate each content piece occupies on the SERP for the keywords they want to be known for, marketers can better manage their SEO and content development efforts by focusing on areas that will have the greatest impact on organic search visibility.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Google beefs up mobile shopping results for the holidays, adds more product info & buying guides

Google is beefing up its mobile shopping experience to prepare for the holidays, now showing buying guides for broad categories like “sewing machine” and “coffee grinder” searches and adding more product-related information for specific product searches.

“When you search for a specific product, Google.com now shows you other helpful information, like related items, and allows you to compare reviews, prices and other specs, side by side,” writes Google product management director for Google Shopping, Jennifer Liu on Google’s The Keyword blog.

Google says it has added a “newer model available” label to tech-gadget product listings so searchers know if they’re browsing the most recent version of tech products.

According to the announcement, Google’s recently redesigned mobile shopping experience has helped bring more product information to the forefront with features like a “Quick View” button in Google Shopping ads that lets users preview detailed product information.

Google also noted its recent knowledge panel updates that quickly surface product photos, videos, reviews and descriptions for product-related searches.

For the announcement, Google pulled search trends for product searches happening in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. According to its data, some of the more popular product searches occurring as we head into the biggest shopping weekend of the year include:

apparel brands like Vans, Canada Goose, and Nike Air Jordan Retro 11.celebrity-endorsed products like Kevin Durant’s Nike KD 10, Pharrell x Adidas and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty makeup line.gamer gifts like Razer phones, Nintendo Switch and Call of Duty WW2.

On the Google Home device, Google says voice searches are trending toward everyday essentials such as paper towels or pet food — things people are likely to add to their grocery lists.

“We’re also seeing people using voice to find other types of products to prep for the holidays,” writes Liu, listing kitchen utensil products, toys “Or fuzzy blankets to keep warm by the fireplace.”

Google expanded on its trends data on the Think with Google blog, confirming that Black Friday-related searches have increased by 80 percent over the past two years.

“Mobile watch time of Black Friday haul videos grew by over 120 percent since 2014,” writes Google’s head of shopping ads, Emily Eberhard.

Google says it begins seeing “generic, non-branded” searches outpacing branded queries attached to Black Friday-related searches early in November. Approximately 2 1/2 weeks out from the Black Friday-Cyber Monday four-day shopping weekend, searches switch to more brand-specific searches.

“There is a switch to searches for Black Friday becoming mostly branded (e.g., “ashley furniture black friday” and “sephora black friday 2016″) as shoppers narrow down their options and begin laser-focusing their research on the specific items they want to buy,” writes Eberhard.

Branded versus non-branded search trends

Google says that in 2016, mobile searches for “black friday” peaked on Thanksgiving Day: “Overall, there were 2.5x as many searches for ‘black friday ads’ as there were for ‘how to cook a turkey.’”

It also notes that many Black Friday-related search queries center around shoppers trying to determine the best time to shop, with top Black Friday-related searches including queries such as: “cyber monday vs black friday,” “which is better black friday or cyber monday” and “is cyber monday as good as black friday.”

Google’s data showed that online conversions remain steady throughout November, with spikes on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Google says it sees mobile transaction rates increase 40 percent during the Thanksgiving weekend compared to the rest of the year.

“It’s a sign that mobile researchers [people researching product purchases on their phone] are likely to become mobile buyers over the four-day holiday break,” writes Eberhard.