At Pubcon 2017 in Las Vegas, Perficient Digital’s Eric Enge sat down with Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes for an in-depth keynote conversation about recent developments in search and SEO.
In this, the third of four video excerpts from that conversation we’ll be publishing, Eric asks Gary to clarify recent statements he made about how Google uses online mentions of a brand in its search algorithms. A transcript and links to the other videos in this series are below the video.
Other videos in this series:
- Google Ranking: Query Deserves Diversity and Video Position Bidding
- Can Pages Rank on Google without Links?
- Does Google Use a User Happiness Score for Ranking?
Eric: Recently you’ve been saying that if people are talking about you online, even if it’s not a link–it could be a discussion about you online–then the context of the page around that could say something about what you were relevant to.
Gary: Right. So, we are testing our algorithms with humans. We have the search quality raters, we have the “one percenters,” actual users who [get served test results and] indirectly vote on what’s better, so the core algorithm is acting very similarly to how a human would.
I imagine that for PPC, brand mentions for ads is something important. That’s how you would build up your brand, I guess. And similar to that is how we learn that you are something on the internet. Once you start getting mentions, we start learning that, yes, this is an entity. We can start linking to that entity different properties.
For example, you are a marketing company. I don’t know what other properties we are linking to you. But, we definitely start learning based on what mentions you’re getting. And, of course, plain mentions are good, structured mentions are even better.
Eric: What’s a structured mention?
Gary: Structured data.
Eric: So, let’s say you have an SEO agency–we’ll use a fun example–and the SEO agency has pages about on-page audits, content marketing services, and they do social media. Many sites start talking about that agency as a great place to buy links. Then, you would start to associate that agency, potentially, with maybe they sell links.
Eric: And, of course, don’t do that, don’t buy links.
Gary: Well, it depends on what you want to achieve.
Eric: If you want to get the manual penalty that you’re so striving to avoid, then that would be the plan, right?
So, what that means, and the reason I want to bring this up, is the context in which you engage online, and how people talk about you online, actually can impact what you rank for. I’m not saying it’s lifting the rankings on specific things so much as, in my buying links example, the website didn’t have anything on it to suggest that it was relevant to buying links, but the rest of the web is effectively suggesting that.
Gary: Right. Have you read the Rater’s Guidelines?
Gary: Okay. So, Jen Slegg can confirm this as well, but I think there’s a part where they say to look for authoritative sites, at least for certain query types. How do you think the raters, human beings, or independent human beings, would learn what’s an authority?
Eric: Sure. If “The Wall Street Journal” writes an article about you, then that’s probably a good thing.
Gary: Yeah. Basically, that’s how the ranking algorithm works as well. The changes are rated by humans, so it reflects very well what a human would do. It’s kind of frustrating because we kept saying for years and years and years to do it for the users and not for the search engines. If you think about it, because we are using humans to rate our changes, and to experiment on our changes, the ranking algorithm is literally acting like a human being in terms of ranking pages.
Eric: Okay. So, part of the reason why I wanted to have this conversation is it really does say something about how you engage with your market community online, which includes things like what you do on social media, how you interact with media people, and how you are promoting yourself so that people talk about you.
So, managing that whole environment of your marketplace and, actually, not just your marketplace but even people who sometimes cover it matters, creating a context where you’re establishing yourself as something of an authority in the space.
Gary: Sure. But, I mean, your company’s called Perficient Digital. If you write about Perficient Digital and you don’t get context, or you don’t give context in the article, then I wouldn’t know what you do.
Eric: The algorithm just needs a little bit of work. But so, that’s the point. For two decades, the world, for a lot of people focused on SEO, was laser-targeted on “do this one thing, then it will cause that ranking impact,” and it was very rifle-shot oriented, trying to do very specific things.
Gary: I would strongly recommend that you do SEO holistically. Don’t just focus on one thing and then get frustrated because it didn’t work.
What you want to do is things like competitor analysis, for example. That’s a really good thing, because you will start looking at least at their SEO holistically. But then you have to do the same thing for your company as well, or your website, and then figure out what you want to rank for, and then start working on getting people to know you, to know that you can do that particular thing.
Gary: It’s not that much different from a brick-and-mortar business either, right?
Gary: You would do literally the same thing. It’s just in the online world, we like to over-complicate things.
Eric: Right. Your algorithms are being modeled to try to replicate the way humans look at it as much as you can.
Eric Enge leads the Digital Marketing practice for Perficient Digital. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO. Learn More About Eric Enge