SES Toronto – Day Two Keynote – Maile Ohye

The delightful Maile Ohye, Senior Developer Programs Engineer at Google entertained and informed the standing room only crowd in a Day 2 discussion-based Keynote with conference organizer Mike Grehan.

Maile covered a lot of Google territory including commentary on:

  • the latest google update ‘MayDay’, it’s purpose and effects
  • how ‘social’ fits in with Google search
  • link building
  • webmaster central

Mayday Update

The ‘Mayday’ update, released on April 28th, has been felt across the web as ranking and indexing results have taken a dramatic shift for many sites. According to Maile, Mayday was purely a ranking change and was designed to improve the quality of search results for long tail search queries.

Prior to this update, long tail search results were not subjected to the same ranking algorithm as broad search queries. Essentially, fewer ranking factors were required to get a site to rank for a long tail phrase which resulted in a lot of webpages being created that were ‘low value content’ but that still indexed and ranked well.

The Mayday update corrected the discrepancy by using the same ranking algorithm as broad search queries and ultimately saw many, many pages de-indexed or dropped dramatically in the search results pages.

As a point of contrast, the previous update, known as the ‘caffeine’ update was a huge infrastructure change allowing google to dramatically increase capacity and performance and to perform per document updates, and simultaneous data centre updates along with misc feature changes.

Google and Social

Where does Social fit in with Google? According to Maile, Google sees search as having 4 areas: Personalization, Language, Media and Nodes and the Social web fits into the personalization area. Much like Google has a ‘link’ graph identifying all the links between and within websites, they also have a ‘social’ graph identifying relationships and it is this social graph that they use to personalize the search experience.

We have all seen this subtle change in search results: with the advent of google buzz, now relevant content from primary contacts will appear on page 1 of your search results. Maile was quick to point out that social search at Google is under regular development and change and that for the time being they are focusing on ‘quality and relevance’ and are therefore restrict results to content from primary contacts only rather than the secondary (or friends of friends) contacts.

While ‘real time’ search is commonly thought of as a ‘social’ search, it fits into the Media category for Google and is therefore viewed as a different source that Google gets data from and as social outlets become more relevant, they will begin to include them in the results.

As a point of reference, Maile talked about video and mentioned how important video has become and that it will be featured even more prominently in the future. she also explained that previously video results were strictly limited to Youtube only because the other video sites were not able to provide a fast enough user experience and now that many have now improved their site performance and load times, users will notice video results from a number of different video sites and also that google has increased the number of video slots from two to four.

Link Building

Maile also touched briefly on the topic of link building and aside from repeating that naturally occurring links that occur from providing relevant, topical, interesting and quality content were always the best, she also pointed out that google does not value all links the same, even links that are not necessarily ‘bad’ links. Through pattern matching, various tools and people, google identifies links that have little or no value and treat them as such.

Obviously taking aim at the common practice of buying links from high Pagerank sites, by means of an example, Maile pointed out that links at the very bottom of a page that follow a particular pattern and with certain characteristics,  are often subject to this ‘no value’ categorization by google even from a page with high page rank and will ultimately pass no value.

Webmaster Central

Maile provided an interesting commentary on Webmaster Central and the Webmaster toolset during her keynote. Webmaster Central is one of the ways in which Google fosters what they see as their ‘eco-system’: the searcher, the advertiser and the webmaster (or publisher). In Maile’s words they see Webmaster Central as a ‘democratization’ of site tools because the tools that they are developing are universal and available to a webmaster of any site, regardless of size.

The other point of note is that webmaster central is under rapid development and appears to be pushing out updates on a regular basis. She highlighted several features including:

Message Centre – Google is currently encouraging webmasters to go into webmaster tools message center and forward messages to their email account (vs having them only appear when they login to webmaster central) because the type of messages that are being posted have now changed and improved. In the past the type of message was primarily related to your site being accepted or not, but since then they have been working steadily to expand and grow message centre so that it provides much more time sensitive and valuable information including: Spammy or abused user-generated content, Abused forum pages or egregious amounts of comment spam and Suspected hacking.

Search Queries – the search queries page has been revamped and now provides a more ‘Google Analytics’ type of interface showing impressions and clicks by time period. It is apparently the only real place that can show actual ‘real’ potential from current search traffic as it shows the number of searches for a particular query that you show up for AND the number of clicks you actually received – pretty cool.

Keywords – the keywords page very simply shows you the keywords that google says you are ‘important’ for. Very revealing and will likely make many readers surprised and run out and SEO their sites better!

HTML errors – the nice thing about this section according to Maile, is that these are pages that Google has already indexed, so start here! Fix these ones before trying to work on getting more pages indexed.

Overall, Maile provided a common theme reiterated throughout here talk: focus on providing rich, valuable, interesting content because that is ultimately what Google will always try to provide and will be constantly tweaking and changing their technology to find ways of always providing the most relevant content for a query at any given time and filter out the less relevant from the results.

Interesting things about Google I didn’t know:

  • If your search query is longer than 3 or 4 keywords (a long tail phrase), google will serve up a longer than normal result snippet because they assume that you are a more sophisticated searcher.
  • The Google Webmaster team maintains a ‘webmaster happiness’  metric (derived from various things like  tool usage and dropoff, forum and support utilization etc) that they meet and review weekly and that keeps them focused on their customers!