One day at Google: Webmaster Product Summit

On Monday, November 4th, around 50 or so SEO’s descended upon the Googleplex campus in Mountain View, California to attend an invitation only one-day Product Summit.

There was much of this…

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See what I mean? SEO’s love Twitter btw. There are tons of insights under the event hashtag #GWCPS. I highly recommend combing through it when you have time.
Thanks in advance to Martin MacDonald for being my model. Your check is in the mail 😉

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They let us ask A LOT of questions tossing around a tiny speaker box…

IMG_1825.jpg I think for the most part, everyone had a great time, felt herd and both sides enjoyed the chance to learn something from each other.

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I had a fabulous time catching up with friends. Talk about #MondayMotivation!

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And throughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet more industry pro’s in person. Yup, that’s me trying to keep my cool talking SEO shop with Glenn Gabe 😛 I’m a big fan of his digital marketing blog and really enjoyed chatting with him in person.

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Did I mention there were snacks? And breakfast AND lunch?! Their food team is amazing to support feeding their day-to-day staff and accommodate our special event that day.

IMG_1743.jpg and gift bags?! The Google Webmaster team really took care of us.

IMG_1272.jpg I’m incredibly grateful to have been a part of this event.

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Tips & Trends from the Google Webmaster Conference

Ok, let’s get down to brass tacks. What were my takeaways?

Snapshot of the agenda & event

What: Google Webmaster Product Summit
When: Monday November 4, 2019
Where: The Googleplex in Mountain View, CA
Who: hosted by Google, in attendance were many well-known speakers, consultants & SEO practitioners alike.

These are just a handful of Search folks I recognized & got to mingle with: Micah Fisher-Kirshner, Denis Yevseyev, Martin MacDonald, Loren Baker, Michael King, Jennifer Sleg, Jackie Chu, Glenn Gabe, Barry Schwartz, Sung N., Elliot Mellichamp.

Why: The origin of this event was conceptualized as a “meet the ecosystem” initiative, a two-way street where webmasters and the core search Product Management teams could interact.

How: Google really does think about webmasters and content providers. The day’s events were organized to include brief talks from product leads and an open forum Q&A led by former SEO veteran, Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan).

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In return (for basically providing food and free WiFi), Google asked attendees to refrain from revealing specific individuals in discussions involving this event.

Industry SEO’s Published Event Recaps

There were a handful of fantastic recaps that surfaced immediately following the event. These were:

Takeaways: Google Webmaster Conference Product Summit by Barry Schwartz, on SEO Roundtable provided great oversight into the technical SEO aspects discussed.

and his second article, 5 Tips and Trends from the Google Webmaster Conference on SEL. 

Plus a great, play-by-play recap by Jackie Chu (who was writin’ up a storm from our row!) published her notes from the Product Summit on her blog.

I can’t forget the numerous folks live Tweeting insights throughout the day. You can find the thread under the event hashtag: #GWCPS.

Insights from Product Fair  

The afternoon session featured a section called “Product fair” where all of the attendees could meander around the room speaking with the various product leads of Search. Much like a Science Fair, each product manager stood by their product board to answer questions. I think a lot of large, enterprise-level companies could benefit from trying something like this within their respective product teams.

These were the three products I visited:

  • Google Images
  • Organizing information on Search
  • Cameos on Google (Video & Influencers)

In my opinion, this was one of the best parts of the day because it gave me a different perspective about Search as a product Google has operating in the market. In speaking with the product leads, I realized they have a completely different perspective about their product than I have as a marketer and SEO professional.

Obviously, the product leads could not divulge on any specific ranking tactics (I also tried to be respectful and not ask those types of pointed questions) but what I found interesting was that they were each very much focused on their own product area and didn’t have much knowledge, if at all, about Google’s illusive algorithm. I think what you’ll find interesting below in the product cards are the areas of the product’s improvement, goals and impact they are focused on.

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Product Card: Google Images

As a product manager at Macy’s, I found the image optimization best practices (below) to be particularly relevant for our PDP pages. Namely:

  • Use descriptive titles, captions and filenames.
  • Use high quality images as well as beautiful inspirational images.

The insight from the product lead I picked up on was about user behavior; it seems Google is noticing users are coming to the Image Search tab to find web pages. Which means it’s likely that websites can garner organic traffic by following these optimizing tips and using great images.

Here’s part of the Twitter thread on this topic:

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Product Card: Organizing the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) 

To me this product is particularly interesting because it speaks to how elements get ranked in the SERP, ostensibly how the algorithm surfaces the most relevant results and of the highest quality.

In speaking with the product owner, I noticed he didn’t quite seem to understand my questions about “as a product owner, how do you determine which element is first, second etc.?” Ok so maybe I was getting too close to the secret ranking sauce 😉

I think the operative word on the product card is “organize” and the emphasis is on “organize the search page by intent”. That’s VERY user-focused. Instead of operating from the POV of “which web page best matches the search query?” it focuses on laying out information based on intention. To that end, I was fascinated to see these product impacts:

  • Increase page utility
  • Improved page scannability

So much of SEO is focused on securing placement above the fold. Rightfully so, because that’s largely where the majority of clicks come from. However, from a product perspective, it seems Google is much more zoomed out on the problem of how to organize information; their focus is holistically arranging the mobile page so that the experience creates better usability, scannability and reduces friction. We tend to think users don’t scroll but the product lead specifically mentioned scrolling is an inherent user behavior on mobile devices. Here’s hoping more users start clicking on results that might be at the bottom of the page.

In my opinion, the Highlights section should have mentioned the recent addition to the algorithm known as BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) a state-of-the-art language model used on Natural Language Processing. It’s now being used for 10% of searches to get better context and understand more ambiguous searches. Metaphorically speaking, the distinguished engineer who spoke about how Google understands synonyms referred to it as the rising tide that lifts all ships.

Further reading: BERT explained

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Product Card: Cameos

This is a new video and influencer-focused product Google is developing called Cameos. It’s an app that can be downloaded. Google is currently beta testing this feature with celebrities and influencers.

How it works: “Experts record video answers to top-searched questions about themselves, their work, and the topics they’re knowledgeable about (e.g. cooking, fitness) …”

I can see this being a great and useful product for recognizable personalities. It made me begin to wonder if they could expand the sphere of expertise to include the self-proclaimed influencers that might not be movie star celebrities but who have expertise and experience. I wondered how Google might go about determining E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthy) in this new product.

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Improving Search over the Years

 A distinguished engineer spoke on this topic, primarily on synonyms and natural language. Search has evolved largely because of how people search for things in text (queries) and how they speak questions into a smart device (voice search).

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I took this picture because the last bullet on this slide intrigued me: “Google’s Synonyms System: One of Google Search’s most important ranking components”. Why is this important? In my opinion, it means the algorithm really does factor in relevance against each query.

A few highlights from his talk:

  • Using BERT for 10% of search. It can solve some language related tasks better than most. Helps disambiguate on longer queries
  • How do you decide which words are synonyms for each other? It comes down to G’s evaluation process: A/B testing and search raters.
  • Compositional brand terms – determined by user traffic. G thinks of those as strings & watches to see what users do next.
  • People use emoji all the time. But often don’t know what they mean.
  • We treat all characters we see in links as full characters (first class citizens), even emoji’s

In summary, he encouraged webmasters to write naturally and write for humans.

 

Conclusion

What was the most important thing you learned and how will you implement it?

This question came from the feedback form Google sent out. My answer:

Learning that every change (i.e. algo adjustment) has wins & losses gave me a new perspective and made me more empathetic to search as a product. I’m going to try to help evangelize to SEOs & marketers to write for humans not what they think the search engine will reward.

The good news is, the Google Webmaster team aims to create more venues like this one for feedback in the future. I hope more folks get to experience what I did that day.

 

The opinions, thoughts and perspective expressed in this post are my own. While I am a representative of the company, these are not necessarily the views of my employer.