For all those who missed Matt Cutts’ keynote at PubCon Las Vegas 2011 we created a transkript in English and a translation in German.

PubCon Las Vegas Convention Center

PubCon Las Vegas Convention Center

SEO is not dead

“Somebody asked me what was the favorite tweet that you saw yesterday from PubCon and I was thinking about it and there was a really good one that kinda caught my eye: basically somebody said: Leo Laporte says “Search engines are gonna be irrelevant in six months” and “somewhere Matt Cutts just spit out his coffee”. So, in fact I didn’t finish the challenge where I gave up coffee so I only drink water now and I was in my hotel room working on my slides when I read that tweet so nobody ought to see my reaction. So, I do a dramatical enactment right now (drinks water and spits it out) – WHAT? Did you guys know this? Brett, did you know this we’re all gonna be irrelevant in six months? Like is PubCon in Hawaii you shut down now cause that’s more than six months from now?

So, you know the claim is SEOs might be out of their jobs in six months and I have to say if you took all the times that people said SEO was dead you’d have like a zombie character from “The Walking Dead” like it’s everybody’s favorite meme to say that SEO is dead. And the fact is SEO is not dead. And here’s the very simple reason: SEO is a type of marketing. And marketing appeals to human nature and that’s never going to go away. Right? So, there’s really useful stuff that you guys provide. Now, I don’t know if you wanna think of yourselves of marketers.

Personally, I prefer to think about SEO as coaching, right? There’s people who have like the equivalent of an online resume and they wanna get hired. And what an SEO does is try to make sure that they put their best face forward, that they present themselves in the best possible light. There’s nothing wrong with that. So we’ve made a video that said SEO is not spam. There are tons of white hatted SEOs out there and a very small number of black hats that might encourage you to lie on your resume. But for the most part, it’s almost like you are a coach that teaches somebody how to interview better. And it’s the exact same problem like if somebody doesn’t have a good resume and they don’t have the skills your job as a SEO is much harder.

But there will always be a role for people who want to present themselves better. And so, if you look back a few years ago SEO might have been more mechanical: Do you have the right keywords? Do you have the right titles? More and more SEO is about human nature and try to appeal to human nature. The other constant in SEO is that search is about change.

If you look back maybe 10 years think about what things were like back when you had GoTo which became Overture, Yahoo, Inktomi, Altavista, AskJeeves, Google – SEO was a little simpler then. We didn’t have rel=canonical, we didn’t have nofollow, we didn’t have a lot of tools like Webmaster Tools. It was basically trying to put on as many keywords on the page and if you were smart back in 2001 you tried to get some links.

And these days, SEO and search is a completely different kind of challenge. There’s Google, there’s Bing, there’s all those traditional search engines but there’s also mobile, apps, that entire trend, things like social, local and then there’s Leo Laporte to mention those voice things like Siri, Android Voice Actions. So, SEO – the way that you present yourself, the way that you help companies present yourselves – the only constant is change.

And the very best SEOs understand that. They understand that you don’t want to go where search engines are, you want to go where search engines are going to be. And search engines are going to try to return the best possible user experience. As long as you are moving in the same directions you are working with the search engines and you don’t need to worry about change. Change is going to help you, change is going to benefit you.

So, I wanted to just talk very briefly about some of the stuff that has happened in the recent past and then a few things to expect from the future. And then we wanna leave lots and lots of time for QA.

What happened in 2010?

Back in 2010 a few people were like: “Where is the webspam team? I haven’t seen them, I don’t know if they are working on it, it’s like they’re a black hole”. And I just wanted to give you a little bit of a perspective about of what was going on in 2010. The answer is hacked sites were going on. So, we had this whole site battle going on with black hat SEOs that was a pretty pitched battle. And in order to be able to make sure the hacked sites didn’t just overwhelm our rankings we had to take a lot of people to work on it. So, all the people who were doing conventional SEO, white hat SEO, even grey hat SEO, they might not have seen all the ressources that we were trying to put into trying to work on hacked sites.

What about 2011?

In 2011, people have seen as we’ve come back and started to work on things that are not like hacked sites that are sort of hidden way in the dark corners. And we started to collaborate a lot more with the search quality team which is really great. One reason why we have Amit today so he can also answer questions from the search quality side.

So, there’s not a ton to say about Panda. We’ve said a lot about Panda, I’ll just reiterate the higher points which is this was a change that was initiated from the search quality group. The webspam group absolutely helped, it was a joint effort. It’s an algorithmic change so we haven’t made any manual exceptions. If people feel like they’ve been hurt by Panda and don’t think that that’s deserving we’re happy to hear about that. Because we understand no algorithm is perfect. You’ll always gonna have false positives. And so, when we evaluated change we tried to make sure that it makes things better most of the time even if it makes things a little bit worse some of the time.

So, we are always happy to hear about sites that you believe are high quality that are affected by our algorithms. And then we take that back to the engineers and we try to figure out is there some signal, is there some way that we could have made things a little bit better so we could have known this was a higher quality site and sort of put a little bit of daylight between a higher quality site and something that might have been lower quality.

The other big effort that we’ve had in 2011 is communication. So, at this point we’re giving many many more heads ups to webmasters if they are violating our webmaster guidelines. So, if my team which does take manual action – and there’s some people in the room here who have been spam fighters before and who have taken manual action – if we have taken manual action you can go to the webmaster console and file a reconsideration request.

And you will now get a very good idea about
1.) whether we have taken manual action
2.) when you hear back from us you’ll be able to know whether we think your site is gotten better, whether your site doesn’t have any manual action at all – which is the vast majority of the time – or whether we still think you’re in violation of our webmaster guidelines.
So, that’s something that a year ago – whenever we talked at the last PubCon – just did not exist. It’s radically better communication. If you think that the manual webspam team is taken some action you now have a way to know about and you can of course find appeals using the reconsideration request. So, that’s something that is totally new in the last year and I think one of the most important things that we have done.

What’s coming on in search?

I also wanted to talk a little bit about the future. Cause you guys know a little bit about the past let’s talk about what’s coming on. And I wanna give you the 10,000 foot view, the 1,000 foot view and then the 1 foot view.

Long-term SEO trends

Mobile

So, the 10,000 foot view is some of these very long-term SEO trends. The first one is Mobile. What is a cellphone? A cellphone is a computer that you carry with you everywhere. That’s going to change things enormously. There is a huge number of people – whether they be in Tanzania or rural Tennessee – who will have cellphones with them and who might not even have computers. So, you need to be thinking about how your website or how your property is affected by mobile searches and do you look ok, do you present yourselves well? They are selling 35 Dollar tablets in India now. So, the days of just thinking of yourself as a desktop browser – how do I look in Opera, how do I look in Firefox, how do I look in Chrome? – you need to be thinking about mobile as well. It’s a really big trend.

Social

Another 10,000 foot trend is Social. I think there’s been a lot of discussion about Social this year and it might be the case that a few people are getting a little ahead of themselves. Just as a reminder: if you are working on something like twitter or facebook that’s essentially a private web form. We can only use any signals that we see, that we can crawl on the open web. So, if you are doing something on pages that are blocked from Googlebot that’s signals that we don’t have. So, most of what we do is based on the open web. Now, longer term it’s definitely the case that we think about social because if we can move from an anonymous web to a web in which everybody has at least some idea of the reputation of an author that’s gonna make the whole web better. If you don’t have to worry about anonymous blog spam and spend time pruning out those comments cause you know exactly “Oh, a person actually left this” – that’s gonna leave more accountability and that’s gonna mean you have a better web.

So, social is really interesting, it’s one of the areas where you don’t have to necessarily optimize for search engines. Right – there’s been a lot of people in the very sessions who have been talking about how you can drive traffic and conversions and money without even involving search engines. So, if Google disappeared tomorrow – heaven forbid – people would be ok it might be a little annoying but between other search engines and things like social you would find ways to fill in the gap. And that’s kinda new, that’s kinda interesting, that’s the trend, more change that you see in SEO.

Local

One last one is local, of course, because that’s where the vast majority of concrete purchases takes place. So, mobile, social, local I think are some of the trends that are gonna be effecting things for the next several years. And you probably wanna have a strategy for each one of those.
Ok, so that’s the 10,000 foot view, let’s move down to the 1,000 foot view.

Middle-term SEO trends

Better page understanding

We’re definitely gonna be thinking a lot more about a better page understanding. In the old days, if you had Googlebot, it was kind of an idiot browser. It was like a browser that had the intelligence of a five-year-old. And Googlebot is getting smarter. So, we now have the ability to index dynamic content, comments, things like Facebook, Livewire, DISQUS. So, if we have the ability to crawl these pages we can often process the JavaScript and then interpret that. We’re also looking at better page understanding in terms of actually understanding what’s on the page, what are the things that really matter? So, I talked about this in a live Q&A that we did a few weeks ago.

But we are looking at algorithms to try to figure out how much content is above the fold. So, if you have so much stuff obscuring – whether it’s ads or whatever that people can’t even see to the content above the fold – you might wanna think about that. That’s an algorithm that we have currently in evaluation. It looks like a pretty nice win in terms of improving page quality. So, just wanna get people a little bit previously think about what does the layout of your site look like when someone lands on that page. In the first 50 milliseconds when they form any conception do they see content? Or do they see something else that’s distracting, or annoying or whatever?

More personal searches

Another 1,000 foot trend: search is becoming more personal. I’ll say the discussion of SSL for the inevitable question that will happen as soon as we open up for Q&A. But it’s definitely the case that if you start to open up things like Android, Android Voice Actions where you can say: sing, note yourself, do something – if somehow that voice recognition doesn’t work that follows through to Google. And the exact same thing happens with Siri – if you’re trying to send yourself a text and that falls through because the voice recognitions doesn’t work – that’s a query that’s sent to Google. So, the trend is absolutely towards people feeling more comfortable sending more personal searches to Google. Now, they’re not personally identifiable, but they’re definitely the sorts of things that you wouldn’t have done 5 or 10 years ago from just a regular desktop browser. So, I would expect that search will keep becoming more personal.

Better tools for searchers

We’re gonna keep rolling out better tools for searchers. So, for example you guys noticed that we launched plus pages for businesses just earlier on PubCon on Monday. It allows you to say something like +toyota and you can see toyota’s page directly in the search results it’ll take you right there. Now, the problem with that is, how many people use the plus operator from time to time? How many of you guys use the plus operator? A few, but not everybody. You guys are among the most savvy searchers in the world. So, on one hand we changed the sense of plus operator which was kind of a disappointment. What we’re looking at is whether there is some way to give you back the ability to do that powered search to say this is exactly what I wanted. I actually did want to spell it „…“ without the “u” or something like that. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if we offered something like a verbatim mode or a literal mode that said this is exactly what I wanted to search for, turn off the stemming, turn off the synonyms, just give me exactly what I wanted. Because that will give you a better tool as a searcher to find information.

Communication and transparency

We are also gonna be working on communication and transparency. I’ve got a couple specific things in mind. This is always where we are trying to be more transparent and communicate more. But, if you run a website – anybody run WordPress? Yeah, more people run WordPress than use the plus operator in case you are wondering. Anybody ever been hacked using WordPress? Oh, quite a few. It’s ok, it is a common occurrence because you have to update the software yourself it’s not based on the clouds and so you have to remember doing the updates. So, one thing that we started to do is to tell people if their WordPress is out of date and so if they know they can get an email alert and they can say “oh, I need to update my WordPress”. So, we’re gonna keep doing that but we’re looking at doing that for more and more software packages. So, if there is some piece of software that’s vulnerable or is out of date then we can send you an alert via the Webmaster Tools Account. So, that’s something that we’re looking at.

In terms of transparency we wanna turn as much of our decision making inside out as we can. And so we’re thinking about all kinds of relevant transparency, you know – could we announce some of the algorithm changes that we do like do a blogpost or something like that. I think that’ll be fantastic because we do over 500 changes a year and if people could know just exactly what they were they wouldn’t worry quite as much about Google being a black box. They would understand more about how it works. One last term that I wanted to mention is the idea of sending information to Google. So, certainly with Panda a few people worried about scraper sites and we don’t want scraper sites ever outrank the original or the authored content as well.

So, one thing that we’ve been discussing and that we were talking about is what if – whenever you do your blogpost in WordPress or you publish something on Blogger or wherever you do it in your content management system – what if you could send a ping to Google and send that content to Google and say “Ok, I just published this” and then Google would say “Ok, now we know where this content came from”? I think that would be a really big improvement for search quality and something that we’ve heard as a request so we’re exploring that. It’s still early days so we’ll see how it turns out.

Short-term SEO trends

But to move to the 1 foot view of the future and this is my last slide – one thing that you can do is first sign up for Webmaster Tools – everybody signed up for Webmaster Tools? Please everybody raise your hands – if you are not, there’s a lot of great information in there. Specifically make sure that you turn on the email alerts. Email alerts is the way where when you get hacked we will send you an email which is incredibly useful.

The next thing you might wanna think about is sending of these so called fat pings. A ping is when you do a blogpost and you ping like blogsearch.google.com or pubsubhubbub.appspot.com. You can also do a fat ping which actually sends the content of the post to Google so that we can learn a little more about possibly who wrote it and possibly improve our ranking.

Matt Cutts at PubCon Las Vegas 2011

Matt Cutts at PubCon Las Vegas 2011

And then a few guys have noticed I have been doing a bit more personal blogging on my blog, the helloween contest, the moustache – anybody doing Movember? A few people – yeah! Mo-Bros right on! So, you know, it’s not just the light I look a little bit silly right now but we’ve managed to raise several thousand dollars for men’s health issues which is fantastic. So, I’ve been talking more on my blog about those kinds of personal things because we have much better blogs where we can talk about official stuff – so the webmaster blog, we have an inside search blog which is just about search quality and the sort of launches coming up or the things we are doing in the search quality group. And then the webmaster video channel where we’ll continue to spool out more and more videos about how Google works. We’ve done over 400 at this point and got over 6 million views. All that it’s a really good way to do that and we also keep working on live Q&As. We had to take a short break for a while because – did anybody see that Dalai Lama did a Google Hangout with Desmond Tutu? So, they actually came and they said – so the Dalai Lama his Visa to go to South Africa was denied – “Hey Matt, can we borrow your computer and send it to the Dalai Lama so he can do a video conference with Desmond Tutu?”. And I was like, well, that’s good Karma. So, you go ahead and take the computer and when they give it back it’ll be like a much nicer good-for-the-world-kind-of-computer. So, that’s why we haven’t done any live Hangouts for a little while but we are looking forward to getting those going back because we have a computer.

So, with that that’s all why I don’t think SEO is going to die and that search engines will be around for a little more than six months to remind people that there will always be changes in SEO. And the best SEOs adapt for that and look at where search engines are gonna be by trying to guess what the best User Experience is. A little bit of the past what has been going on and then thinking about what are the things coming up in the future. And with that, we still have plenty of time for questions…”