Keynote: Google Webmasters Relations #pubcon


Good morning, good morning! We’re kicking things off at Pubcon this morning with a keynote from three Googlers. What more could you really want to start your search day? On stage we have Nathan Johns (Senior Search Quality Analyst and one of my favorite folks), Eric Kuan (Webmaster Relations) and Gary Illyes (Search Quality Analyst). This should be good. Joe Larato is playing moderator, host and emcee here.

Joe: Voice search,  as a topic. What are you seeing? How is it effecting devices?

Gary:  Voice search is very exciting. More and more people use voice search or voice commands in general. It’s a new way to interact with devices and we are still in the early stages of voice search, even though we have improved tremendously over the past couple of years. Both our undesrtanding of the queries and the results that we serve for thsoe queries are better. For Search Console, we are actually showing the voice queries, as well. The queries you get are unfiltered. If someone does a voice search, it will come up in analytics. There is no filter for finding the voice queries. That’s something that we brought up with the Search Console leads and they took into consideration to add something like that in the future. He says he generally sucks with timelines so he will not say when this will hapen, if at all, but Google is working on it.

Nathan: In general, people are still learning how to issue a query via voice. It’s a new mode of searching. That’s still happening. It’s still pretty new. He thinks that a decent chunk of all of the new queries are via voice. The public is learning how to issue queries in a new way.

Gary: He sees that there are parts to bring better software to the smart devices and eventually that might mean that these devices are able to understand spoken queries as well.

Joe: Can you talk about Featured Snippets?

Gary: It’s one of the hot topics nowadays. There are mutliple external studies. The future of Featured Snippets is growth, better recall and better precision with smart devices where you only have space for one answer/one result. There, Featured Snippets help the user enormously. If you do a query on the Google app and say “why is the sky blue” you will get probably a partial response and it tells you that for more you would go to whatever website. He expects that we will see more Featured Snippets but also more accurate ones, in general.

Joe: Any tips on freshness and Featured Snippets?

Gary: Featured Snippets is a pretty volatile feature right now because it’s under active development. People are coming up with new ideas on how to improve the snippets. Even if you get a Featured Snippet today, you might lost it in 24 hours because we’ve changed something slightly about how we want to trigger them or what conditions a result has to satisify to be featured. But then 24 hours later you might get it back. He can’t make any recommendations on how to get a Featured Snippet because it is so volatile.

Joe: Eric, any big updates coming?

Eric: I don’t think there is anything specifically that we have coming. We’ve been making changes to Panda and Penguin. He’s glad they got those pushed through. Philosophically, he’s never one to be super worried about algo changes (because he works at Google?). Everything is geared towards making results better for users. As long as you are focused on creating good content for your users you’ll be in a good place. Aw, wasn’t that lovely? 😉

Joe: Mobile first indexiing

Gary: Separate mobile sites might have some problems but we have recommendations for how to avoid being negatively effected by the mobile first indexing.  It will take a few years for the rollout. We want to make sure that we don’t hurt the system with this change. What we are doing is analyzing what actually might hurt sites when we move them to mobile first indexing. If we see your site will be hurt, we will not move it to the mobile first index for now.

Joe: Machine-learning

Nathan: I would say just by the very nature of machine learning and Rankbrain, one of the challenges has always been debugging. As with lots of other things that we do, especially things that have a potentially large impact, we take a lot of caution with how it impacts results. He thinks they are taking their time and paying very close attention to make sure we understand as much as we can about how it operates and what it’s doing. It’s definitely been a priority for us. There haven’t been any updates. We use it as much as we can to improve products and services.

Gary: What people forget is that machine learning is not a generic tool that you can use for everything. There are better ways to do certain things. For the https boost (which does exist), we are looking literally at the first few characters in the URL. That’s how we identify if something should be https. It would be batshit stupid to use machine learning for that. We still have algos that are written by humans and the different statements in the algo – you can follow them yourself and not let the machine make predictions. We are investing a lot in machine learning and you can expect it will be used more and more in every aspect of our lives.

Question: Mobile first indexing and links – what is happening with that? 

Gary: First, let me say that most people are overly concerned with links for no reason. If you have important links – you are linking to  – then you probably want to do the same thing on mobile, as well. All of the thngs we care about or the things a user on your site would care about, too.

Eric: The whole mobile-frst index is a shift of how you think about your website. Think of your mobile site as the canononcial version of your site.

Gary: Links are not even the biggest problem. The bigger problem is content parity. He doesn’t think that some people realize that if you don’t have your important content on your mobile site, then you are not going to rank for that content.

Question: The new Penguin is good. There’s still a lot of confusion about using the disavow tool. I would love to have more clarity from Google. Should we be disavowing good links? 

Nathan: It’s there. If you feel like you need to use it, then you can. That’s all he has to say about the disavow tool.

Eric: When we first put this thing out there it was because people were trying to find a way to file reconsiderations. When you do something bad, it was really hard to get back to the regular state. It’s unfortunate to see people panicking over things. Use it carefully and use it will good judgement.

Question: Rich snippets have seemed stagnant lately. Specifically with rating review snippets, do you see any changes in how prevalent they are?

Eric: It’s about the quality of the site. We have quality thresholds for the page. If it’s a good quality page, we’ll likely show a snippet. If it’s not, we won’t.

Nathan: Structured data is awesome. If you haven’t implemented it yet, and theres’s a use case for your site, you should.

Question: We miss our organic keyword data. Do you ever anticipate a time where we might get access to those.

Gary: No.

Question: If I’m worried about links, where should I go to look at my backlinks? Should I go to Moz, Majestic, etc? Why can’t you guys give accurate information on “here are your backlinks” so we can decide if we should do a disavow or not? Should people be looking at their backlinks to say “here’s some negative SEO”

Nathan: To put every single link that we crawled into Search Console requires resources we don’t have. If you’re spending all this time looking at links, maybe you should reconsider what you’re doing.