SMX Advanced 2013 Seattle

If you couldn’t convince the boss to send you to Seattle for SMX Advanced 2013, you might want to check out this post! In the video below, Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land talks to Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team (aka the attorney general of search), and all sorts of new insights emerge…

(apologies for the audio – which is a bit rough at times):

Quick Summary of Key Insights

  • Google has identified a new ranking signal related to Panda which may help some websites “in the grey zone” recover.
  • Google announces major updates – those that it thinks people will notice – but doesn’t provide the public alerts when small changes are made.
  • Penguin 1.0 only affected the homepage. Penguin 2.0 can go deeper and affect actual individual pages of your site.
  • With each passing day, it gets harder to spam or trick Google.
  • Site owners should focus on design, user experience, and going after the really hard links
  • Press release links are paid and shouldn’t be counted
  • Blog spam is mentioned repeatedly – suggesting that it is going to get increasingly scrutinized in the future (perhaps being labeled as advertorial) if it hasn’t been already.
  • Messages in Google Webmaster Tools are for manual action only.
  • All site owners need to be thinking about MOBILE
  • Fast sites with a great mobile experience will rank higher – period.
  • Google isn’t using bounce rate, CTR, or social signals… yet.


Detailed Summary & Takeaways

    • After a brief dig about (not provided), Danny started things off asking Matt which animal would represent the next Google update.
    • Danny then went into Panda. Matt talked about the last Panda update, which was about a month and a half ago.
    • Matt said that normally they update Panda about once a month, but it’s been about 6 weeks since the last update. The reason? Google’s webspam team has identified a possible new ranking signal and they’re working to integrate it into the algorithm.
    • He said that the new ranking signal should help some webmasters currently affected get out of the “grey” zone.
    • Danny asks Matt why Google doesn’t just tell us about ALL updates. Matt responds that they tried that and people like Barry Schwartz went nuts over it, but then, after a while, people stopped caring. So, Google will tell us when something big is happening — something you might notice anyway — but not when small things are going on.
    • Matt reminds us that they make 500+ changes per year. They make changes everyday, but some of them are so specific that almost no one would notice. Matt also mentioned that many updates are query specific.
    • Matt talked about how Penguin 1.0 only affected the homepage of a site where as Penguin 2.0 can go deeper and look at all the pages of a site. Danny was a bit surprised to hear this and questioned Matt about it. Matt indicated that he had mentioned this before, but you had to be listening very carefully.
    • Danny mentioned that links are kind of like the fossil fuel of the ranking signal world. We all think they’re kind of dirty and they pollute the web, but we can’t really get away from them.
    • Matt talked about how it’s getting harder to spam every single day. He said that we’re coming to a fork in the road where you have to make a decision – engage in spam and go after the easy stuff or do the really hard stuff. He recommends you build a quality website and go after the really hard links.
    • Danny asks Matt what actually counts any more (in terms of improving your rankings). Matt says that Google’s standards have been very consistent over time. For example, the SEO community got up in arms about links from press releases being devalued. Matt says that if you think about it, links in press releases are fundamentally paid and therefore shouldn’t be counted.
    • Matt also mentions blog spam – several times – during the interview. It sounds like Google might be expanding its evaluation of “guest blog posts” in the future (if it hasn’t started or done so already).
    • Danny talks about the local car repair guy and who is going to link to him? Matt talks about how local businesses should get testimonials, word of mouth, etc. — with these come links. Matt talks about Apple – they’ve focused on design and innovation and it’s worked out pretty well for them. Focus on a fantastic user experience.
    • Danny talks about automatic penalties and how you don’t get notified and you just have to figure it out. Matt talks about how messages are for manual actions only. You’re NOT going to get a message for an algorithm update.
    • Matt talks about how Google is now going to start showing you examples of why you’ve been penalized (ex. showing you some of the bad links).
    • Danny asks about the expiration date of Google penalties. He asks what the maximum penalty is. Matt said that the length of the penalty depends on the severity. Is Google seeing repeated issues, etc. In most cases, manual penalties automatically expire. The thought is that if you keep it up, Google will catch you again.
    • Matt mentioned that YOU REALLY NEED TO BE THINKING ABOUT MOBILE. Mobile is happening much faster than anyone expected.
    • Common mobile problems include redirects from individual pages that all go to the main Make sure your site is NOT smartphone antagonistic.
    • Matt talked about a session at Google I/O about instant mobile websites. There’s a tool (pagespeed recommendations?) you can use to see what’s slowing your site down. Google might start doing the same thing they’re doing with site speed for mobile sites.
    • Someone asks if they get alerted about unnatural links, can they just disavow all the links or should they manually try to remove them first? Matt talks about how you really should clean up the bad links before using the disavow tool.
    • According to Matt, Google is working on showing more backlinks so that webmasters don’t have to pay $100 for a tool that shows them everything. Matt talks about the cons of showing all the links — black hats would abuse it to see exactly what their competitors are doing.
    • Danny asks Matt about (not provided) queries – it’s going to 100%, right? Matt cites about a book called, Little Brother (?). This got him interested in SSL and privacy.
    • Matt talks about how all the search queries are in Webmaster Tools. You can download it and keep it for as long as you want. Matt talks about how if its really worth it to you, you can install the Python script and download the data.
    • Panda and Penguin are not large-brand focused or large site focused per se.
    • Matt frequently mentions black hats and affiliates together. Are they synonymous? Matt says, although the number of affiliates that don’t add value is high, the answer is “no.”
    • Does page speed impact the site’s ability to rank? Matt says, “slow sites rank worse.” You should pay a lot of attention to caching, etc. Sites that load fast don’t rank higher; sites that are slower (outliers) rank lower. Focus on user experience.
    • Danny asks about Facebook data. Eric Enge showed data that indicates that Google IS using Facebook data. Sites with Facebook links rank better (?). Matt says he disagrees with Eric’s conclusions.
    • Matt suggests that Facebook and Google don’t get along that well so they are unlikely to use the data. Matt reminds us of the study an SEO did years ago about how sites that rank well have more likes on Facebook. Matt reminds us that correlation does not equal causation.
    • Google has created a tester for rich-snippets and structured data. Structured Data Dashboard to return errors if you didn’t mark-up correctly.
    • Danny asked about bounce rate and how it affects a site’s ranking. Matt said that, “to the best of his knowledge, they’re not using it.”
    • Matt is skeptical about using user behavior to influence rankings because it’s easy to game / spam (he mentions the old Google toolbar and how Stanford students began emailing each other to click the “happy face” on the Google toolbar).
    • Danny used this to transition into Google+ and Matt said that they are analyzing the data, but implied that they are not using it yet.
    • Toward the end of the video, Danny asks Matt, “what do you think is the most overrated SEO trend?” to which Matt replies, “short-term social.” Matt goes on to say that social will definitely be important over the long haul, but he reminds us that Google doesn’t have access to as much within the social sphere as they might like to have.
    • On the flip side of this question, Danny asks Matt what he considers to be the most underrated thing the SEO community focuses on. Based on Matt’s earlier reference to Apple, you can guess how he answers – design and user experience. Matt says that if you look at the apps and start-ups that are really taking off, they’re the ones doing so through word of mouth (largely driven by user experience).

If you are fortunate enough to be attending SMX Seattle 2013, please drop us a line with news and insights. We’ll share and perhaps provide a link back to your site (free of charge, of course!).

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Posted in Algorithm Updates, Google Updates, Search Engine News

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