After a day of talks, workshops, networking discussions, and product demonstrations, last week’s biannual BrightonSEO conference closed with an intimate sit-down chat with Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes.
Knowing that a capacity audience of keen SEO professionals were waiting, The SEM Post’s Jennifer Slegg was armed with a tablet crammed with questions from delegates, eager to take home any advantage they could.
By and large, it was a frank and honest discussion, albeit with a few “not that I know of” answers that came with a slight knowing smile, or the odd “I am not aware of such plans” with a hint that he may in fact be aware of such plans.
Having got there early, I was sat at the front ready to pick out the talk’s highlights. If you weren’t so lucky, or just want a recap, here are five things to know about Google’s Keynote chat at BrightonSEO
1. There’s More To ‘Fred’ Than A Name
The backstory of ‘Fred’ was covered early on, an off-the-cuff Twitter comment that has now passed into SEO lore. Previous big Google algorithm updates have had names, such as Penguin or Panda, and Gary often gets asked what each one is called.
However, Google update their search algorithms two or three times most days. So when one journalist was particularly pressing, Illyes told him “you know what, from now on every single update that we make unless we say otherwise will be called Fred, every single one of them.” But this comes with a serious point that Illyes was keen on highlighting.
“Every update we make is to do with the quality of the site and all of these are in the webmaster guidelines. When we change an algorithm that modifies these guidelines, we update it. For the vast majority of our launches, they are not actionable for our webmaster. We may change the keywords on a page we pick up, because people in a certain region put them up differently and we want to adapt to that. Ultimately, if you publish high quality, highly cited content (such as links, social mentions, general talk about your brand) then you are doing great.”
2. How accurate are weather reports about Google?
Search professionals obsess over changes Google makes to how it chooses to rank pages, and where there’s an audience there is content. Weather forecasts for Google indicate how much turbulence there is in the google algorithm, and how much search ranks are likely to fluctuate as a result.
Many people make a living analysing what Google might be doing, with varied levels of success, but who has their finger on the pulse more often than not?
“Usually Mozcast gets it right in terms of what we are doing, but the scale is very different from what we see most of the time. I have a very specific example in my mind where the change was below 1%, which isn’t much more than a standard launch. But Mozcast said everything was insane, the world was burning, and Australia had already melted into glass, which was a bit of an exaggeration. But then other times they get it right.”
3. Machine Learning Is Making Google Smarter
We had already heard from Bing how they were looking to fine tune their algorithms to provide a more personal search experience, and how AI would play a role in that. Unsurprisingly, they are not alone, as Illyes elaborated:
“If you search Python, it may take you a couple of clicks for us to figure out if you want the snake or the coding language. But after a while we’ll see that you are consistently clicking on the snakes, and figure out that you want results about the snake.”
However, he warned against using it to solve every problem your business has, there are still things that it’s better to solve yourself.
“Machine Learning is a generic tool you can use for many things. We have brilliant machine learning engineers who can build programs that find patterns a human couldn’t. We are currently using machine learning in pretty much every product we have. But it’s not something you can use for everything, you don’t want to spend engineering hours building something that works out 1+1.”
4. Does Google Value a Link Changing in an Old Article?
If you work in marketing at a company that has been around for a few years, there’s a good chance you have received an email from someone highlighting a broken link on an old page and offering you a link of their own for you to plug it with. The above question is one that was put to Illyes.
“There is certainly value in fixing broken links on old pages. Whether you link internally or externally is irrelevant, but you must keep context in mind. If someone asks you to replace a broken link and it makes sense, sure. But if it’s a link to something that has no relevance to your article, we will ignore it and so should you.”
5. Don’t Redesign Your Site And URL At The Same Time
If you’re rebranding or updating your website, it’s understandable that you may wish to update the URL at the same time as you redesign your website. However, both actions can cause a period of fluctuations in your Google ranking, and therefore it’s advised that you don’t do both at once
“If you want to redesign, do it and then wait before changing the URL structure. You will definitely see ranking disruptions, but they should settle after a few weeks. But don’t combine that redesign with a URL change or site move immediately, or you are shooting yourself in the foot… with a cannon.”
On the subject of URLs, the matter of HTTPS providing a small boost was brought up.
“A website being HTTPS is still a tiebreaker if two websites are ranking pretty evenly, although we have said that advantage may be increased in the future. I’m owner of that boost though, and I’m not working on it, so…”
And with that, BrightonSEO is over until April. If you have picked up tips from the event and are working hard on your SEO, then attribution for your hard work needs to be in your plan. Start a conversation with us today to discover the transformative benefits Infinity would bring to you.
Product Marketing Manager Andy has spent years obsessively analysing B2B and B2C digital marketing campaigns and technology. Outside of his family, his main loves are Woking FC, his Xbox and his National Trust membership.