This morning Matt Cutts gave his keynote at Pubcon, discussing what Google has been up to this past year and what some of its plans are for 2014.
Looking Back Over 2013
This past year has been a busy one for Google. As Matt said, they have been tasked to take on “moonshot” projects — projects that are daring but have the opportunity to make a huge impact.
Conversational Queries and Voice Search
Matt shared that conversational queries and Google’s ability to process voice search has improved greatly over the past year. His office mate, Amit Singhal calls this “things not strings”. In other words, Google is getting better at understanding contextual queries and how words in a query relate to one another based on the context of the search.
Any conversation about contextual search naturally leads to the next area of development this past year for Google — the Hummingbird algorithm. There are many questions for SEOs about this new algorithm and specifically how it impacts SEO moving forward. Matt indicated, however, that the Hummingbird algorithm doesn’t really affect SEO much. He gave the example of a voice search for “What is the capital of Texas, my dear?”. In a voice search like this, Hummingbird allows Google to take out words in the search that aren’t relevant to the context of the search. So in this example, Google might remove “my dear” or other terms that aren’t relevant to the query itself.
Web Spam Updates
Google released two Penguin updates to combat link spam (Penguin 2.0 and 2.1). They also launched a Payday Loans update earlier this year. They’ve also been working on removing links from advertisers that are passing PageRank. And Maile Ohye has posted several videos to help webmasters in ways to avoid hacking and malware.
How Search Works Website
Google also launched the “How Search Works” website, which is a great way to explain the basics of how search engines work. However, the site also provides some great information about the classifications of web spam, identifying the types of spam that Google manually takes action on.
So what does the future hold at Google? What big changes may be coming in 2014? The first megatrend is that Google will continue to enhance machine learning. Google sees its role as providing information in a relevant fashion, and that may not always be via a search engine (sounds like more Knowledge Graph to me…).
Matt shared a stat from YouTube’s traffic over the past three years, demonstrating the growth of inbound traffic from mobile growing from 6% in 2011 to 25% in 2012 and up to 40% in 2013. He emphasized that this mobile growth is likely to continue across all sites and mentioned that mobile traffic is actually greater than desktop traffic in some countries today. He stressed that webmasters should start thinking about and addressing mobile now because it will be important to provide a good mobile experience to visitors.
Matt also discussed the concepts of social signals, recognizing identity and the importance of authorship. While Google can’t necessarily crawl all of Facebook (or other social networks) today, they clearly recognize how social influence can be a key indicator in understanding a person’s authority. Google will continue to try to read these social signals moving forward. So even if some social engagement doesn’t have direct ranking impact today, it may in the future. Just do what you can to be an authority in your space across these social networks.
The Web Spam team is working on the next generation of hacking detection and addressing issues on an international level — major issues like child pornography in search.
Matt also address Google toolbar PageRank. It hasn’t been updated for some time now, and he told the audience that, while it normally updates every 3-4 m0nths, the pipeline broke earlier this year and they chose not to fix it for now. The prevailing feeling at Google was that people were becoming too obsessed with toolbar PageRank. They may revisit this and update it next year, but for now the toolbar PageRank will not be updated for the remainder of 2013.
Advice from Matt
So what advice does Matt have for us SEOs?
If your site is not yet mobile-ready, Matt highly recommended that you focus on this effort. Given the growth of mobile over the past few years and its continued growth trend, it’s important to address.
You may be familiar with form autocomplete via Chrome today, but coming in 2014 (first to Chrome) will be a button to allow a visitor to fill in the form by pressing the button. Nice. To prepare for this, go ahead and annotate your forms now.
For ad-heavy websites that have a large percentage of space above the fold taken up by ads, this may have an affect on ranking in the future. Google is considering how to handle these sites, but Matt seemed to indicate that these sites may not be providing the best user experience.
I personally found this particular comment a bit ironic. Google might penalize sites in organic search if they are ad-heavy at the top? What do you call a Google organic search BUT ad-heavy above the fold?
In Google’s own search results, more than 75% of the page is taken up by ads above the fold. Hopefully they will reconsider their own layout if they begin to penalize other ad-serving sites.
Tightened Authorship and Rich Snippets
Matt indicated that Google will likely tighten up authorship and this may decrease the number of authors shown in results by about 15%. The goal of this effort would be to improve the quality of authors they show and truly show valuable authors with high authority. I actually personally welcome this change because today we’re seeing a lot of spam around authorship right now, and it’s (in my opinion) affecting some legitimate sites negatively. In essence, authorship is relatively easy to attain today, and if AuthorRank does ever come to fruition, it’s vital that authorship be a true measurement of authority.
Matt also indicated that they may also tighten up when rich snippets show. They’ll be looking at the qualityof the site to determine when rich snippets should show.
Why Panda and Why So Fast?
Matt replied to some comments made by Jason Calacanis in the Monday keynote regarding Mahalo’s issues with Panda. Matt said that the Panda update was very necessary given what was going on with Google in 2011. Many were unhappy with Google’s results, specifically around content farms. It got so bad that people created parody sites around ridiculous topics like: “How to Stub Your Toe” and “How to Pour Milk“.
His “How to Pour Milk” example was great because it also had a great illustration of blatant keyword stuffing:
Tilt the container of milk so the opening faces in a downward direction, toward the ground, over the orifice of the glass, cup, mug, bowl, teacup, small pitcher, measuring cup or saucer.
Press Release Links
Matt also addressed the question of links in press releases. If you have press releases in the past that have anchor-based text links in them, there’s no need to go back and edit them. Google likely just isn’t counting these links because it sees the link as a paid link. That doesn’t mean you’re punished, but doing press release anchor-text linking isn’t necessarily helping you today and the past shouldn’t hurt you.