Notes from the SMX West Conference

I was at SMX West. I went through 160 presentations. Here are a few major points.

  • Keywords: Many SEO companies still do keyword-centric SEO, but that no longer works. Your SEO must be designed for the current version of the Google algorithm.
  • Quality vs. Average: Quality is better than technical fixes. Create “#1 Best-Ever” material and it’ll rank high and get lots of distribution.
  • Responsive design: Google strongly tells you to use responsive design. However… responsive design is slow (because a mobile device must download everything but shows only the content for mobile). Google penalizes slow sites, esp. on smartphones. Google itself doesn’t use responsive design. What to do? Typical contradictory signals from Google.
  • Page Length: Longer pages work better for mobile: one page is better than many short pages that must be opened one after the other.
  • Guest Blogging: Widely promoted several years ago to build traffic and reputation, guest blogging is now considered as link spam by Google. Don’t use guest-blogging. It will wreck your SEO.
  • Build Your Brand: A study of 30,000 websites found a bias at Google toward big brands. Top brands with just-average SEO rank higher than low-level brands with very good SEO. Yes, do SEO, but better than that, build your brand.

SMX West, Keynote Address. Tuesday, March 11th, 2014


  • Amit Singhal, Sr. VP and Head of Search at Google
  • Danny Sullivan, head of Search Engine Land
  • Over 1,000 attendees. All seats taken and many lined the three walls of the large conference room

Tone of the Conversation

  • It was a friendly chat. Danny did not ask hard questions.
  • Amit was friendly and charming. He presented Google as a friendly company. “You get the goodness of Google” and “Google is the web’s strongest ally”. Amit’s responses were vague and uplifting.

Transcript of the Conversation

The Situation

  • People are switching away from desktop and going to mobile
  • People talk to their mobile devices
  • (My comments: Google’s desktop revenues fell 7% in the last year. Mobile will surpass desktop in US web traffic by mid-2014.)

Google’s Response to the Changes

  • Google is developing a voice interface. Ask questions to search. Google talks with reply.
  • Google is learning how to deal with spoken questions and requests
  • Previously, Google indexed keywords and counted links
  • Google now uses Knowledge Graph to understand things and concepts. Hummingbird replaces the previous algorithm
  • Google also moved away from “clicking on results” to telling you the answer. Ask “how tall is the Eiffel Tower?” and Google voice tells you “1,063 feet”. A Google Card also shows you the answer.
  • This means most websites and links are disappearing from Google. 85% of searches are navigational (websites) or informational (requests for information).
  • Google Now can also hold a conversation. It understands the current question may be related to previous questions. Ask “will I need a sweater this weekend?” and then ask “what about next week?” It understands that “what about next week?” means “weather forecast for next week”.
  • Try  Google search on a recent Android phone. Say “Okay, Google” and ask a question.

What about Keywords?

  • Google is paraphrasing the query. They look at your query and show you results for what you meant.

Google Now

  • Google is also offering proactive information. Google Now shows Google Cards
  • Your cell phone learns from you behavior, searches, calendar, locations, and friends. Cards improve to give you relevant information at the right time of day.

Google and Social Signals

  • Google is not using data from social sites, incl. Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

How Does Google Rank Pages?

  • They are moving away from keywords and links (these were easy for spammers to abuse)
  • They look for indicators of quality, incl. credentials, licenses, certification by authoritative associations, awards, freshness, quality of the site, and so on
  • (My comments: Google wants to increase quality. High-quality sites will dominate the search results. Google will continue to increase the weight of penalties. The number of mid-quality sites will drop significantly. Low-quality sites will disappear.)

What about Websites?

  • If Google can answer the question, they will
  • They won’t show links to the websites
  • However, websites must reach their target audience
  • Websites should develop strategies to reach their target audience without relying on Google
  • It’s no longer SEO. It’s “User’s Search Optimization”. What is your TA seeking? Offer the best answer.

Metrics and Success

  • Current metrics measure keywords, rank, and traffic
  • Current metrics tools do not measure quality, reputation, audience reach

Google and Fraud

  • Google hides behind a smokescreen of pleasant generalities (such as “You get the goodness of Google” and “Google is the web’s strongest ally”.)
  • Google will not state the obvious: Google is focused on the user. Google ignores websites.
  • By not giving clear guidelines or metrics, Google leaves the field open to fraud and misinformation

My Summary

  • Google is moving from “they offer a neutral index of every site on the web” to “they offer only quality sites and block the rest”
  • Google is offering its own answers to many common queries. Websites are being pushed off the results page.
  • You must completely rethink your SEO and web strategy. If you rely on search engines for your traffic, very soon you may not get traffic at all.