Google has done a fantastic job of putting Matt Cutts out there as the face of the web spam team – and he is also the face who delivers updates about Google’s work and algorithm updates to the web at large.
The crowd at the “How to Ranke Better in Search” #bingle panel at SXSW was reflective of the presenters’ reputations. The other panelist was Duane Forrester of Bing – whose specific role is product manager of Bing Webmaster Tools, and the panel was moderated by Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan. I was seated in the crowd of overflow seating so I technically didn’t see the presenters, but I could hear the conversation and watch what they were displaying on their computer screens (see pic below).
The session format was a Q&A panel where audience members could ask the questions and drive the topics. Below were my biggest takeaways:
1. Social Signals are Growing in Importance
Social Signals (aka how links and shares from Social Media profiles affect your site’s authority) have had an effect on search results when a user is logged in to Google for some time now. If you or your friends have shared or liked content (particularly on Google+) – that content is more likely to rise to the top of the page. One of my favorite quotes of the panel was from Matt on these personalized results:
“There are a lot of people whose bosses think they rank number one because the boss is always logged in seeing personalized results” – Matt Cutts, Google
Matt confirmed that over time we are going to see social signals play more of a role when logged out as well.
This is already most noticeable with the rel=”author” tag which attaches your Google+ profile to content you’ve created and adds your profile photo next to the content in search results. In the panel, Matt confirmed that content with this author photo next to it does consistently see a higher CTR.
2. Start Using Schema.org
Schema.org is a system of tags that webmasters can use to markup their pages in a universal way recognized by the major search engines. Google and Bing both praised the value of incorporating these Schema.org tags to help the search engines better crawl and understand the content on your website – and indicated that this will become even more important in the future.
From Duane – Schema data does not affect rankings directly; it is used to help the search engines understand the site and its content.
Google and Bing are still testing how users respond to showing schema markup in SERPs – so you may see it show in search results only sometimes for now.
How to: Getting Started with Schema.org
More Resources: Getting the Most out of Schema.org Microformats (from SEOMoz)
3. Quality Content Wins
This is something Google has been hammering home with their recent algorithm updates. It’s not exactly new, but I wanted to mention it because of how much both Google and Bing emphasized this point during the panel. At the end of the day – Quality Content wins online. Quality Content means better placement in search, better engagement, and better conversions.
“Our job is to consistently wow people with search results” –
Duane Forrester, Bing
4. Don’t Rely on Press Releases for SEO
Press Releases are key for communicating to traditional media, but Matt confirmed that Google has downgraded the value of press releases for SEO recently, so you should not rely on that content to boost your SEO on its own.
“We haven’t really trusted press releases since 2006” – Matt Cutts, Google
5. Google Isn’t Too Worried About Facebook Graph Search as a Competitor
There has been a lot of buzz about Facebook’s Graph Search tool. One audience member asked straight up if Google is worried about Facebook Graph Search as a competitor. Mat’s reply – not right now, but he can definitely see a potential over time.
6. For Ecommerce Sites, Reputation Matters to SEO
Google also confirmed that they are working on an update for 2013 that will try to incorporate a merchant’s reputation into their ranking for e-commerce sites specifically. The catalyst to this has been poor sites ranking well because of an increase in links from bad press. Google is trying to get smarter about determining which of those links are “good press” vs “bad press.”
7. Google (Still) Hates Spam
Matt is head of Google’s Spam team so naturally he spent time discussing some of the team’s latest spam updates. Within the How Search Works site, Google has launched a site that shows real time screenshots of websites being discovered and dinged by Google:
More Resources: Google’s “How Search Works” Resource Library
What other SEO takeaways did you see at SXSW? Share them here!