One year ago at SES San Francisco, Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts revealed that Google had seen more than 30 trillion URLs. As of 2013, that number is closer to 60 trillion unique URLs, according to Patrick Thomas, a specialist on Google's User Policy team and keynote speaker at this year's SES San Francisco.
Such a massive amount of content creates equally immense challenges – both for Google, as well as marketers trying to stand out. Tough calls and policy decisions need to be made. And Google's User Policy team is at the heart of such decisions as the search engine giant attempts to organize those trillions of pages for users.
During an interactive SES San Francisco keynote on Sept. 12, Design Your Own Search Engine: Lessons from Tough Calls on Content at Google, attendees can ask their pressing questions and get answers straight from Thomas, as well as get an inside look at Google's decision-making process.
If your goal is to create content that will grow your business, this keynote will offer you the opportunity to find out directly from Google just what exactly Google considers "high-quality content" – so you can leave with ideas on how to shape your own content strategy in ways that will make your users and Google happy, and start growing your brand's search visibility.
Ahead of his SES San Francisco keynote presentation, here's a short interview with Thomas, who discusses his role at Google, search spam, mobile, and what SES attendees can expect.
Danny Goodwin: You're currently a specialist on the User Policy team at Google. How did you end up in that role?
Patrick Thomas: I joined Google in 2011 and had previously been working on international economic policy in Washington, D.C. At the time, I wanted to make a transition to the tech industry and to Google in particular. I was frustrated with the rate of progress in public policy and had long been impressed with Google’s ambitions to solve the world’s biggest problems. Being offered a job here was a dream come true.
DG: So before Google, you had a background in politics. How have some of the skills from your pre-Google days translated into your role at Google?
PT: You’re right. Prior to joining Google, I was a senior trade policy advisor at the British Embassy. In that role, I worked with legislators, government officials, and non-governmental organizations to advance an open trade agenda to improve global economic growth and reduce poverty. It was an interesting job that required analytical and negotiation skills, proactivity, and cross functional stakeholder management.
I’ve been able to put those skills to good use at Google. The policies we make have a major impact on how users experience our products, so many people in the company have ideas about what we should do. Google is a consensus-driven company, and it’s often a give and take to make sure everyone is on board for a policy change. It’s well worth the effort, particularly for big or controversial issues.
SEW: When you first began at Google, what was the most surprising part of the job?
PT: The scale at which Google operates! I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about search policies. In search, it’s not enough to solve a problem once. You have to do it in such a way that you can apply your solution algorithmically. Training myself to think about solutions at scale was definitely one of the most interesting aspects of the job, and it makes finding the right solution that much more challenging.
DG: Do you ever see a day where Google, or any search engine, could become "spam proof"?
PT: We hope so! We devote a lot of effort to fighting spam and keeping it out of our search results. In some ways, this is always going to be a cat-and-mouse game between the spammers and our engineers.
But think about another example: email spam. A few years ago, it wasn’t hard to find articles gloomily predicting the demise of email as a useful communication tool thanks to spam overload. Today, email users don’t really worry about it. It’s not that spam went away; indeed, it still makes up a large percentage of total emails sent, but we’ve found effective ways to keep it out of the inbox. That’s what we always strive for in search - a situation where spam has an absolute minimal impact on the quality of the user experience.
DG: As mobile search evolves, with innovations such as Google Glass, do you see any potential new issues that Google may need to address?
PT: The transition to mobile is something we’re thinking about carefully across Google. How can we make sure our mobile offerings are every bit as innovative and useful as our desktop products?
For search, mobile presents new challenges about displaying information and keeping out spam. Spam looks different on mobile, and we have a lot of people working on that as part of our overall spam-fighting effort.
DG: What can SES SF attendees expect to learn about Google search during your keynote?
PT: I’m looking forward to a fun and interactive session. What I hope attendees get out of it is a unique look at Google’s decision-making process for controversial content in search and an appreciation for some of the tough calls we have to make.
DG: Thanks for your time, Patrick!
You can see Thomas' keynote at SES San Francisco 2013 on Sept. 12 at 9 a.m. In addition, SES San Francisco will feature more than 60 sessions covering all aspects of digital marketing (paid, owned, earned, and integrated), a keynote from author and marketing expert Jeffrey Hayzlett, access to the Expo, and some fantastic networking opportunities.
The SES Early Bird rate expires this Thursday, August 15 at 11:59 p.m. ET, so register now to take advantage of up to $400 in savings and experience cutting-edge online marketing.
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