Matt Cutts, Head of Webspam at Google and more generally known as Google’s representative to the SEO community, recently gave a keynote speech at Pubcon 2013.
Cutts plays an interesting role in the SEO community. He’s head of the department in charge of manual penalties, but he’s also the representative of Google to SEO – he’s all the transparency we get. It’s very much a love/hate relationship.
Having seen him in person at SES San Francisco 2012 I have to say I don’t envy the man his job. As Cutts said during his Pubcon keynote:
“Anytime I’m being threatened with bodily violence on a black hat forum I know my team is doing their job.”
Some criticize Cutts for the ‘PR speak’ he uses when explaining Google, policy, penalties, or even talking SEO. There’s no doubt that at times his answers can be frustratingly vague, open-ended, or at the very least open to interpretation.
But, considering the pressure he faces, no doubt from both SEOs and Google itself, I think he does a commendable job. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google was significantly less communicative were Cutts not in the picture.
Whether you believe the same, there’s no doubt that what Cutts says is worth paying attention to – at the very least we can get a sense of the direction of Google, and maybe even dig out a few useful bits of information concerning current and future SEO.
So, let’s run through Cutts's Pubcon keynote speech.
Cutts Pubcon Keynote
Cutts’s Pubcon speech is definitely worth watching. If you have the time and the inclination, I highly recommend sitting through it:
Otherwise here’s a detailed breakdown about Matt Cutts’s speech at Pubcon 2013:
Cutts explained Google in three ways:
- Google’s recent “moonshots”, which reflect their vision
- What Google has been steadily working on, creating incremental changes
- How Google intends to improve, both big picture and short term.
Here’s how Cutts’s speech flowed:
- Google search's ‘moonshots’ recently accomplished
- The Knowledge Graph
- Voice Search
- Conversational Search
- Google Now
- Deep Learning
- Google’s recent quality of life and incremental improvements
- Panda softening
- Recognizing Authority
- Smartphone ranking
- Webspam changes
- The future of Google
- Big trends
- Machine learning
- Mobile is huge
- “Social Identity Authorship”
- Webspam Trends
- Not visible things for the next 6 months
- International problems
- Page Rank Toolbar
- Adheavy pages
- Authorship quality
- Rich snippets
- Big trends
Google’s Recent “Moonshot” Improvements
According to Cutts, there have been five recent improvements that help shed light on Google’s future direction. Cutts was particularly proud of these improvements, using the often heard “moonshot” lingo that’s well associated with Google, particularly Google X.
1. The Knowledge Graph
Commonly SEOs talk about the Knowledge Graph for the fact that it keeps Google searchers from having to leave Google. This means that websites ranking for terms the Knowledge Graph appears for might be losing traffic – no small matter.
However, Cutts said webmasters and SEOs focus too much on this.
“The Knowledge graph: that’s not just taking Wikipedia and making it into something pretty. It’s actually trying to understand the entities, the people, the stuff that’s really in the world.”
This is an important distinction – Cutts wants us to be aware that the Knowledge Graph isn’t just about data mining a database to extract and present answers; the Knowledge Graph is about teaching Google to understand real world things.
2. Voice Search
Voice search is another ‘moonshot’ improvement Cutts focused on. And his claims of voice search being vastly improved are well founded – check out this user made Youtube video showing off the new voice search features:
This intertwines with the Knowledge graph, and is extremely important for mobile search.
3. Conversational Search
Conversational search, not to be confused with voice search, is Google understanding the importance of multiple queries in a row to form a conversation.
An example of conversational search would be to search “How tall was President Lincoln?” And then a following search of “Who was he married to?”.
In this instance Google would understand 'he' refers to President Lincoln.
Conversational search is Google learning the importance of pronouns, previous searches, and returning more information even faster than before. It greatly increases the usability of voice search - the video above is also a great demonstration of conversational search, as well as voice search.
4. Google Now
Google Now is actually incredible – I recommend it if you haven’t yet tried it. However, if you’re an anti-corporation, highly private person, you’ll absolutely hate Google Now. Google Now notifies you about events or things it thinks you might want to know – traffic, weather, local events, etc.
Google Now removes the searching from Google, and gives you helpful information as it thinks you’ll need it.
Here’s the promo video:
And here’s an article by Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan about Google Now being amazing.
5. Deep Learning
Google has created a neural network to further promote machine learning. Cutts talks about this a bit, highlighting the benefits and factoids computers have been able to put together, learn, and associate. Cutts said they want to 'teach' Google to learn and read at at least an elementary school level.
This is still in early stages, but it’s Google further investment into machine learning and the Knowledge Graph.
I can’t help but notice a trend – Google is trying to provide the information you need, when you need it, in the most convenient way possible. All of these “moonshot” improvements tie in directly to providing information, on the go, quickly and efficiently. Currently that commonly means smart phones, answer cards, and improved understand of user intent. However, I can’t help but notice all of these improvements will directly support Google Glass as well.
Google is clearly trying to take search to the next level. They want to move beyond providing 10 blue links within search. This matches their mission statement:
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
As Matt Cutts quipped during his Pubcon speech, the word 'search engine' isn't in there.
I believe that Google is investing heavily into the next generation of computing – and I don’t doubt they hope it will be Google Glass.
Google's Recent Incremental Improvements
In the second stage of his speech, Cutts talked about continued improvements and updates Google’s been working, which is a bit of a rehash of old information.
It might have been a mistake, but Cutts talked about Hummingbird in this section, making it seem less a ‘moonshot’ and more a necessary improvement to further the functionality of voice search.
Regardless, with Hummingbird impacting 90% of queries there can be no doubt it was a big change – although Cutts stressed that it didn’t impact SEOs much.
If you want to read more about Hummingbird Danny Sullivan put together a great FAQ about Google’s Hummingbird.
2. Softening of Panda
Cutts also mentioned softening the effect of Panda for websites in the “gray zone” – specifically an inclusion of further signals to determine whether or not those gray zone websites are in fact quality.
This was announced at the beginning of the summer, in this video:
3. Recognizing Authority
Cutts then moved on to talking about recognizing authority and further promoting those sites in search. Although some have tried to tie this to Google Authorship and more specifically Author Rank, Authorship expert Mark Traphagen is unconvinced. This also was part of what was announced in the video above.
4. Better serving mobile traffic
Another recent development Google rolled out recently was to better serve mobile traffic. Specifically, if a user is searching on a mobile device, and Google recognizes your website is poorly suited for mobile, they’ll push you down in the result.
5. Webspam changes
Recent webspam changes include Penguin 2.0, 2.1, targeting spammy search results (payday loans), punishing sites with ads passing Page Rank, link networks and creating the How Search Works website.
The Future of Google
This is where Cutts talked about where Google is headed and hinted at the future. He mentioned three big trends:
1. Machine Learning
Google wants to get faster, smarter, better. They’re going to work to serve users the best way possible, and this involves adding further intelligence to Google search. Cutts also emphasizes that they’re going to return information to the user in the fastest, most direct way possible - which includes providing the information themselves.
Google wants to add more value for users and searchers, and machine learning is large on their horizon for accomplishing this.
Cutts strongly pressed the importance of mobile moving forward, and the fact that 40% of all Youtube traffic currently comes from mobile, as of 2013. If mobile isn’t on your radar, you’ll shortly regret it according to Cutts. The trend is only going to increase, and it’s happening faster than anyone anticipated.
3. Social Signals
Cutts made a point of saying social signals are hard for Google to use, and in the short term they’re not ranking factors. However, long term Google admires Facebook’s ability to identify people online, and that is something Google would like to accomplish.
Specifically, Cutts referred to this as “Social Identity Authorship”, and mentioned Google Authorship – which clearly isn’t going away.
4. Incremental increases
Here Cutts felt there were a few things worth mentioning in the future of Google:
- The webspam team won’t be highly visible for the next 6 months – they’re taking on hacking and international problems.
- The Page Rank Toolbar is dead until further notice – Page Rank is well and alive, but the export out to the Toolbar broke and they’re not bothering to fix it.
- There will be another “Above the Fold” algo improvement to detect ad heavy sites.
- Authorship and Rich snippets will be pulled back slightly, to ensure it represents authority figures; currently too many websites have Authorship or some form of rich snippets available.
A huge amount of information was shared at Pubcon 2013 by Matt Cutts. If you have the time, it is definitely worth your time to watch the video.