Meet the Search Engines: Bing’s Duane Forrester and Google’s Gary Illyes Answer SEO Questions

We start with a little Darth Vader music and a theme is emerging. Duane Forrester of Bing (@DuaneForrester) has got a Star Wars cap on, and Gary Illyes of Google (@methode) is sporting a shirt with Darth Vader on it. As moderator Danny Sullivan (@DannySullivan) enters, the long-time camaraderie is apparent among the search trio on stage. So, get ready for answers to SEO questions coming fast and furious.

Danny Sullivan, Gary Illyes, Duane Forrester
Danny Sullivan, Gary Illyes and Duane Forrester at “Meet the Search Engines”

Anything to announce?

What about changes to the name Bing Webmaster Tools?
Duane: Bing Webmaster Tools is the only tool in Microsoft that hasn’t had a name change in the last year!

Can the Knowledge Graph sort through bad and incomplete data to identify brands at the local level?
Gary: That’s the goal. I don’t know anything about local SEO.

Can you tell us more about Google’s hotel booking engine?
Danny says that this question will be answered in the Ask the SEMs session happening now in another room.

Updates on crawling AJAX and JavaScript?
Gary: There’s a blog post being finalized right now. It’ll be sent out for final approval next week and published 2 weeks. No longer recommending AJAX crawling scheme. We’re not deprecating AJAX but no longer recommending AJAX crawling scheme, the weird escaped fragment. We’ve tried to make sure whatever publishers have will continue to work and not deprecate the index. They want the crawlers to be able to crawl hashbang and other URL fragments.

In this blog post, Google will recommend snapshots because it might be better for users, not for Google. If you generate a snapshot on your server, that can be loaded much faster. That’s a simple HTML rather than reading resources. For users, snapshots are great. [Editor’s note: Google published the blog post here.]

Duane on AJAX: Bing has run into the same problems as Google, and he agrees with what Gary explained. Nothing to announce at this time.

Does Bing still use meta keywords?
Duane: Simple answer is, not in the way you think if you’re looking at meta keywords and thinking they have any impact on ranking. Their usefulness is in other areas. They’re clues. Contextual ad networks may take your meta keywords for relevance. If you’re going to do them, then don’t stuff keywords into them. Matt Cutts said that if you’re thinking about meta keywords for SEO, you’re already thinking in the wrong direction. But there’s a lot more to running a business than SEO. You may still want to do them for serving relevant contextual ads, for instance. Don’t keyword stuff because you won’t get a pass from Bing for doing manipulative SEO things.

Danny says that Google still uses meta keywords for Google News. Barry Schwartz is sitting next to me and nodding vehemently. Gary says he doesn’t know.

What’s going on with Google+ and why’s it so hard to combine profiles? Did you have to worry about it for search?

Gary says you never had to worry about Google+ for SEO. Danny says that the +1 button was put into search and Google said it was one thing they might be looking at. For signed-in Google users, Google+ signals can influence content ranking.

The partnership between Google and Twitter means that there’s integration of tweets in search results, mobile and desktop.

Do you look at links in Twitter posts?
Gary: He doesn’t know of any such plans. In general, using social signals in search ranking is a terrible idea. The social network you’re working with may just shut off the fire hose, and what if your ranking system relies on it? Search engines need long-term, reliable, consistent ranking signals.

Duane: Predominantly, social data is used for the Knowledge area. It can be used for ranking, like a check and balance, but as Gary mentioned, you can’t rely on it. But if there are social signals such as a high number of followers, then it supports the rest of the data.

Danny asks: Is this right? Bing doesn’t penalize for paid links, just discounts them. Google comes down on paid links on both sides of the link.

Duane encourages people to step back and look at a higher level. If your plan is to buy links and hope Gary doesn’t notice it and Bing doesn’t penalize it, what is the value of the link?

Inbound traffic, Duane says, still has merit. He tells businesses that when pursuing links, be smart about it. It’s easy to tell the algorithm that when you see new links, don’t pass any value for the first 90 days.

“If you want to dumb it all down into a sound bite: Take this approach: get links naturally. Produce an awesome experience. If you crack the quality content nut, you’ll be rewarded,” Duane advises.

It’s incredibly important to study and get in the minds of millennials. Every brand is susceptible to millennials right now. Authenticity. Quality of engagement. Millennials don’t care about brands. They care about experiences and authenticity. It will come back to you as links. If millennials judge you first, search engines pick up on that.

Gary Illyes, Duane Forrester
Gary Illyes (Google) and Duane Forrester (Bing)

Gary: People are thinking about what Bing or Google wants. That’s the wrong approach. Most sites and businesses that don’t think about millennials will be going out of business. He’ll add to Duane’s description that millennials have short attention spans. If you can keep it to five minutes, then you’re in a good span.

Duane: There’s also the amount of time you have to get their five-minute investment. That’s seconds. Millennials will see the largest transfer of wealth when their parents die, in the next 10 years. This is a generation that was pounded by the recession, stayed in school longer, got more advanced degrees, and are getting higher paying jobs. This is the money you seek. Are you ready for a day when there isn’t such thing as a search engine as we know it? Apps are like vertical search engines. Millennials are used to that search experience. Search is the data layer powering the experiences. So how are you working your way into that? How are you getting your work in front of these people in a meaningful way to drive value or save the existence of your company? Typing into a box is soon going to be a quaint idea.

The topic transitions to voice search.

You can do voice search where the context flows from query to query. Apps like Google Now and Cortana are expected to answer these follow-on, context implied queries. The answers come from public data. If you’re building your business around public data, that’s not the best idea. Provide something more that users want.

Any stats on if people are using the Cortana search button?
Duane: 100 percent of voice search happens vocally.

Best practices for content syndication?
For other business purposes, it might have merit. If you’re using it as an SEO tool, or link building exercise, that’s not a good thing. For duplicate content, Bing isn’t at 100 percent correct attribution. A lot of smart things can be done to signal the original content to search engines. Canonical. A block that says that the content is from a syndication partner.

Gary: There’s no duplicate content penalty. If many pages duplicate the same content, they pick the canonical from the cluster of pages. A bigger problem is if you think you’re doing something legitimate, like selling your content to another site, and you might have problems.

What about HTTPS for ecommerce sites?
Gary: Don’t do it for the ranking boost. Do it for users. You never know where your user is.

Duane: It’s tough for engines to take a line on security. We’re all in for safety for our own users, employees and customers. If you want to wrap your head around these concepts, read a book called “Future Crimes” by Mark Goodman. This ex-FBI agent explains how porous everything is and how far and fast data spreads. This explains why search engines are recommending it. This book keeps Duane up at night and made him depressed. Private browsing in a Firefox window — anything like this is window dressing to security. That’s the level of problem solving they’re dealing with at the engines, and seeing how they can rationally influence what’s happening to businesses.

Will Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools treat HTTP and HTTPS versions of my site as being part of the same domain?
Gary’s evasive.
Duane: He pushes for things like that. Tools are powered by a series of other services that the search engine uses. The net effect is that they may want to integrate that, but it requires other teams to make changes.

Why is a scraper site outranking me?
Gary: When a scraper copies your site, search engines are pretty good at discovering the original source. If your site is not ranking for your content, there might be something on your site dampening its rankings.
Duane: He gives a warning about using DMCA requests too much.

What’s the best URL structure or site architecture for an international, multi-language hub site?
Gary: It doesn’t matter. Use locale and language identifiers. It doesn’t matter in the end. If you use hreflang, you can specify exact language and locale. It’s not necessarily good to think about what will be good for a search engine. Think about what users will want.

Duane: It depends on your business. If you have a big office in France, you probably want a .fr. If you’re a U.S. business who wants to touch an area, then you may want it in a folder. It’s all about giving the search engines as many signals as possible. The folder may be the way to go so that all the content is collected for you. This page is for this product for customers in France, please rank it as such. This is a level of audience segmentation that you need to know about. In France, the mindset is very nationalistic. They default to it as much in their daily life as possible. So, you may find that sites with a .fr would be more trusted by a French national.

How is page speed playing into Google rankings? The PageSpeed Insights tool only ever recommends browser caching.
Gary: Page speed is great. Optimize your site for your users because users like fast sites. We also talk about attention spans, because people demand the content fast. How do you create fast sites? Web Speed Test, a bunch of resources you can check for making a site faster. You can compress JS, CSS, HTML, convert images …

Duane: (He picks up where Gary leaves off.) … Less dependencies on third parties. Here’s one more way speed matters for SEO. The faster a user clicks back from a SERP click-through, the faster you’ll rank lower.

Danny picks up that this is an admission that Bing uses click data for ranking.

Duane uses a suspicious voice and says “Do we?” and he says he doesn’t disagree.

Gary: Google uses click-through data when they’re experimenting with new features. Google uses click-through data in personalization and disambiguation (like searches for Apple). Other use of click-through data and user signals is a real pain.

Duane: If you look at all of the data, that’s a lot of noise. It’s not easy to use user signals. You can’t trust the data you’re seeing because there are outside influences. Bing also looks at click-through data in experiments to see how it influences usability.

Why does the number of results on a Bing SERP change?
It’s experimentation. The number of items on a page generally differs by topic. There’s an above-the-fold page real estate issue that they have to deal with. The more they understand data from a source, the more comfortable they feel answering the query.

Referrer spam in analytics — when will Google handle that?
Gary: The issue is being escalated. There’s a plug-in you can use now.

Why did Google go from 7 to 3 in the Local Pack?
No answers.

Penguin and Panda?
Gary: Panda is rolling out. Gary checked it yesterday. The new Panda update will be a multi-month update. (Note: This is news!)
Regarding Penguin, Gary says it’s rolling out in the foreseeable future. He won’t give a specific date or else Barry will get him in trouble again. The next Penguin will be a real-time algorithm factor, and he is hoping it will be before the end of the year. He’s not working on Penguin, though.

Safe to use anchor links on page?

Should we avoid giving you too much structured data because you’ll cut our pages out of SERPs?
Gary: The assumption that a search engine will drive you out of results for rich data is wrong. Sites getting featured snippets see increased clicks.

Does using incognito search give impersonalized SERPs?
Everything is personalized at least by geographic region.

Will disavow data be cut off prior to the next update?
Gary: Keep your disavow files up-to-date. When Google moves Penguin to a real-time version, it won’t matter when you submit your disavow files.


Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

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One Reply to “Meet the Search Engines: Bing’s Duane Forrester and Google’s Gary Illyes Answer SEO Questions”

Thanks for the summary Virginia. Listening to what these guys have to say is like hearing politicians. Lots of vague answers and denials. The two things that stood out for me is that it’s ok for someone to steal your content and out rank your site because they have a site with a better structure. The other thing is click rate and hang time on your site is critical.


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