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Matt Cutts on SEO, PageRank, Spam & the Future of Google Search at Pubcon Las Vegas

jennifer-slegg
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Matt Cutts kicked off day two at Pubcon with another of his signature keynotes, dispelling myths, talking about spammers and about Jason Calcanis’ keynote from day one, at the urging of the audience.

First, Cutts spoke about Google’s “Moonshot changes,” which he broke down into these areas:

  • Knowledge graph
  • Voice search
  • Conversational search
  • Google now
  • Deep Learning

He revealed that Deep Learning is the ability to make relationships between words and apply it to more words, and how it can help improve search and the nuances of search queries.

Deep Learning in Regular and Voice Search

He explained that voice search is changing the types of search queries people use, but also that it can be refined without repeating previous parts of the user’s search queries. It does this when it knows the user is still searching the same topic, but drilling down to more specifics.

Cutts shared an example where he was searching for weather and continued on with the query without having to keep retyping “What is the weather?” because Google can recognize the user is still refining the previous search query. “Will it rain tomorrow?” in voice search will bring up the weather results for location for Las Vegas, Nevada. Then when he says “What about in Mountain View?” and Google shows weather for Mountain View, knowing that it is a refined voice query. Then “How about this weekend?” is searched and it shows Saturday weather for Mountain View.

Hummingbird, Panda & Authorship

Next up, Cutts spoke about Hummingbird and he feels that a lot of the blog posts about how to rank with Hummingbird are not that relevant. The fact is, Hummingbird was out for a month and no one noticed. Hummingbird is primarily a core quality change. It doesn’t impact SEO that much, he said, despite the many blog posts claiming otherwise.

Of most interest to some SEOs is that Google is looking at softening Panda. Those sites caught in grey areas of Panda--if they are quality sites--could see their sites start ranking again.

Google is also looking at boosting authority through authorship. We have seen authorship becoming more and more important when it comes for search results and visibility in those results; Cutts confirmed this is the direction in which Google will continue to move.

Google on Mobile Search Results

Next, he discussed the role of smartphones and their impact on search results. This is definitely an area SEOs need to continue to focus on, as it is clear that sites that are not mobile-friendly will see a negative impact on their rankings in the mobile search results.

Smartphone ranking will take several things into account, he explained:

  • If your phone doesn’t display Flash, Google will not show flash sites in your results.
  • If your website is Flash heavy, you need to consider its use, or ensure the mobile version of your site does not use it.
  • If your website routes all mobile traffic to the homepage rather than the internal page the user was attempting to visit, it will be ranked lower.
  • If your site is slow on mobile phones, Google is less likely to rank it.

Cutts was pretty clear that with the significant increase in mobile traffic, not having a mobile-friendly site will seriously impact the amount of mobile traffic Google will send you. Webmasters should begin prioritizing their mobile strategy immediately.

Penguin, Google’s Spam Strategy & Native Advertising

Matt next talked about their spam strategy. When they originally launched Penguin and the blackhat webmaster forums had spammers bragging how they weren’t touched by Penguin, the webspam team’s response was, “Ok, well we can turn that dial higher.” They upped the impact it had on search results. Cutts said that when spammers are posting about wanting to do him bodily harm, he knows his spam team is doing their job well.

He did say they are continuing their work on some specific keywords that tend to be very spammy, including “payday loans,” “car insurance,” “mesothelioma,” and some porn keywords. Because they are highly profitable keywords, they attract the spammers, so they are working on keeping those specific areas as spam-free as possible through their algorithms.

He discusses advertorials and native advertising and how they are continuing to penalize those who are utilizing it without properly using disclaimers to show that it is paid advertising. Google has taken action on several dozen newspapers in US and UK that were not labeling advertorials and native advertising as such, and that were passing PageRank. He did say there is nothing wrong with advertorials and native advertising if it is disclosed as such; it’s only when it is not disclosed that Google will take action against it.

Spam networks are still on Google’s radar and they are still bringing them down and taking action against them.

Bad News for PageRank Fans

For PageRank devotees, there is some bad news. PageRank is updated internally within Google on a daily basis and every three months or so, they would push out that information to the Google toolbar so it would be visible to webmasters. Unfortunately, the pipeline they used to push the data to the toolbar broke and Google does not have anyone working on fixing it. As a result, Cutts said we shouldn’t expect to see any PageRank updates anytime soon--not anytime this year. He doesn’t know if they will fix it, but they are going to judge the impact of not updating it. The speculation that PageRank could be retired is not that far off from the truth, as it currently stands.

Communication with Webmasters, Rich Snippets, Java & Negative SEO

Google continues to increase their communication with webmasters. They made new videos covering malware and hacking, as Google is seeing these problems more and more, yet not all webmasters are clear about what it is and how to fix it. They are working on including more concrete examples in their guidelines, to make it easier for people to determine the types of things that are causing ranking issues and point webmasters in the right direction to fix it.

Cutts stressed that he is not the only face for Google search. They have 100 speaking events per year and do Hangouts on Air to educate webmasters. They hold Webmaster Office Hours, to increase communication and give users the chance to engage and ask questions of the search team.

Google is becoming smarter at being able to read JavaScript, as it has definitely been used for evil by spammers. However, Cutts cautions that even though they are doing a better job at reading it, don’t use that as an excuse to create an entire site in JS.

Rich snippets could get a revamp and they will dial back on the number of websites that will be able to display rich snippets. “More reputable websites will get rich snippets while less reputable ones will see theirs removed,” says Matt.

Matt also says negative SEO isn’t as common as people believe and is often self-inflicted. One person approached Matt to say a competitor was ruining them by pointing paid links to their site. Yet when he looked into it, he discovered paid links from 2010 pointing to their site, and said there was no way competitors would have bought paid links back in 2010 to point to their site, since the algorithm penalizing paid links wasn’t until a couple years after those paid links went live.

The Future of Google Search: Mobile, Authorship & Quality Search Results

On the future of search, he again stressed the importance of mobile site usability. YouTube traffic on mobile has skyrocketed from 6 percent two years ago, to 25 percent last year, to 40 percent of all YouTube this year. Some countries have more mobile traffic than they do desktop traffic. Cutts reiterated, “If your website looks bad in mobile, now is the time to fix that.”

Google is also working on machine learning and training their systems to be able to comprehend and read at an elementary school level, in order to improve search results.

Authorship is another area where Google wants to improve, because tying an identity to an authorship profile can help keep spam out of Google. They plan to tighten up authorship to combat spam and they found if they removed about 15 percent of the lesser quality authors, it dramatically increased the presence of the better quality authors.

They are also working on the next generation of hacked site detection, where Cutts said he is not talking about ordinary blackhat, but “go to prison blackhat.” Google wants to prevent people from being able to find any results for the really nasty search queries, such as child porn. Cutts said, “If you type in really nasty search queries, we don’t want you to find it in Google.”

Cutts’ current advice (again) to webmasters is that it's important to get ready for mobile. He spoke to the convenience for website visitors when you utilize their auto-complete web form annotations, to make it easier for people to fill out forms on your site. The mark-up to add to the forms is easy to do, and will be available in the next few months.

The next generation of the algorithm will look at the issue of ad-heavy websites, particularly those with a large number of ads placed above the fold. This is really not a surprise, as it makes for a bad user experience and Google has previously announced that their page layout algorithm is targeting this. But sites using JavaScript to make it appear to Googlebot that the ads aren’t above the fold should look at replacing the ads before the algorithm impacts them.

Matt Cutts Q&A

During Q&A, Cutts discussed links from press release sites. He said Google identified the sites that were press release syndication sites and simply discounted them. He does stress that press release links weren’t penalized, because press release sites do have value for press and marketing reasons, but those links won’t pass PageRank.

The problem of infinite scrolling websites was raised, such as how Twitter just keeps loading more tweets as you continue to scroll down. He cautions that while Google tries to do a good job, other search engines don’t handle infinite scrolling as well. He suggests any sites utilizing infinite scrolling also have static links, such as with a pagination structure, so bots can have access to all the information if their bots don’t wait for the infinite loading of the page.

Someone asked about whether being very prolific on blogs and posting a ton of posts daily has any impact on search rankings. Cutts used the Huffington Post as an example, as they have a huge number of authors, so logically they have many daily posts. However, he says posting as much as your audience expects to see is the best way to go.

In closing, Cutts said they are keeping a close eye on the mix of organic search results with non-organic search results and says he would also like to hear feedback on it.

While no new features were announced during his keynote at Pubcon, Cutts packed his presentation with many takeaways for webmasters.


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