Ask Google Anything: Gary Illyes Talks RankBrain, Panda, Penguin and More

The Ask Me Anything session with Google Search is always an SMX highlight. The audience is full of digital marketers eagerly waiting to hear what Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes will reveal in the AMA with Search Engine Land and Marketing Land Editor Danny Sullivan. Read on for this Googler’s statements on RankBrain, Google Assistant, Penguin, Panda and more!

Google says that RankBrain is the third most important ranking factor; is it really a ranking factor or a query alignment tool?

Gary: Basically, it’s a ranking factor. It’s a supervised machine learning platform. RankBrain is the same thing, it’s learning what worked well for queries and what results are good for a certain query. It works well for long-tail queries. He gave the example query of “can I beat Mario Bros. without using a walk through”

With RankBrain, the results are more reasonable than without it.

Is it more query refinement and less ranking?

Gary: It will understand what results will work better for queries. Stop words are dropped from queries but RankBrain understands the conversational manner of search and can give results accordingly. It’s less about understanding the query and more about understanding how best to score the results.

Do we have a RankBrain score?

Gary: We don’t have a RankBrain score. The root of your question is if you can optimize for RankBrain.

[witty banter]

RankBrain is a new, unique score. It’s enhancing our relevancy in the search results based on what you have on your pages. It makes sure the user gets the best page for the query. If you keyword stuff your content, it will almost certainly not be good for you.

How many queries is RankBrain processing?

Gary: Not sure; RankBrain will refine and learn from every query it gets.

Should we fear that it’s going to take over the world? Most of the AI movies show us that the machines will take over …

Gary: Not all of the world.

[insert audience laughter]

Is the number one ranking factor content or links? Which is the most important ranking factor?

Gary: It depends on the query, what you’re looking from and what the numbers say. I can’t give you a concrete answer because it depends on too many things.

What’s the deal with Google Assistant?

Gary: Frankly, I have no idea. I know we’re still wrapping our heads around how to experiment with this new cool idea. It’s based on machine learning. We need to know what you want, how you want it and where you want it.

How much of the algorithm is going to become AI based? 

Gary: Machine learning is extremely important for us. We’re focusing on machine learning and what it can do — not just in Google Search but in all of our products. At what stage are we? I can’t tell you because I only have a vague idea. We don’t want to get to a stage where someone sends us a bad query or a query that we have bad results and we don’t want to get to the point where we don’t understand why the machine gave that result.

Do terms in the URL help in any way with rankings?

Gary: TLDs do not play a role in how we calculate relevancy for a specific result. ccTLDs to play a role in ranking, you’ll perform better in the google local. There are certain cases where we will look at it but in most cases we won’t. I’m not advocating to buy keyword rich domains; it doesn’t have a super power. My recommendation is that it can definitely help you if you’re describing your product in the URL because it helps your user.

Google said it was going to give you more data (more than the current 90 day view) in Search Console almost three years ago; when is this going to happen?

Gary: We went through a very long transition with Search Console. We’ve figured out how to we can make a longer time of data happen and is something we’re working towards a little faster (and we have the buying from management).

Let’s move on to Penguin … are we going to get a new one anytime soon?

Gary: Penguin, I will not say a date because I’ve been wrong too many times. I will not say any time frame anymore.

What’s the deal with Panda? You said it was part of the core algorithm but is stuff running through it constantly?

Gary: It is not real time but it is continuously running. We collect the data and then roll it out, refresh that data and roll it out again.

What’s our time period on each roll-out?    

Gary: Months.

So it takes months to get through all the sites on the web?

Gary: Correct.

At this point, unfortunately, my computer died >.< There was one more key piece of information coming out of this Google AMA, though — the official end of Google Authorship.

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Jason White is VP of SEO and SMM at DragonSearch. Along his journey, Jason has built a tool box of experience in pay per click, email marketing, media buys, corporate events, and has worked both in-house and at an agency (he LOVES agency life) performing search engine optimization and social media marketing. He fell into his career as an SEO and appreciates how his role evolves as the field changes because it allows him to draw upon his core skill sets, creating holistic campaigns that deliver results. A constant learner, Jason is always seeking improvement and freely shares his knowledge. His work has been featured in print and digital, and he has spoken at SMX East, NYU, American Marketers Association and WordCamp NYC.

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

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21 Replies to “Ask Google Anything: Gary Illyes Talks RankBrain, Panda, Penguin and More”

Great Info. Thanks for sharing.
This was truly informative. We will begin putting this to work for us.
Thank you

Great Post, I have query that RankBrain is the new way Google ranks search results ?

F*** Pinguin, this is all i want to say!

Virginia Nussey

I sense you are not a fan of said Penguin, Rico. >.<

Hey all i think rank brain will be the future impact in google search in think so! No more panda bu penguin will roll out within this year. Get ready for the great kick off!

We’ll see, Maze! Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

Google will constantly struggle against SEOs. RankBrain will not win without a fight.

Virginia Nussey

Haha! Antonio, you make it sound like SEOs are fighting Google and RankBrain. I wouldn’t put it that way! SEOs would get along with Google and RankBrain better with the attitude and awareness that the goal is to SERVE THE INTENT AND NEEDS OF THEIR CUSTOMER.

Thanks for the post, Bruce Clay and Jason White.

Good to hear Gary say, “We went through a very long transition with Search Console. We’ve figured out how to we can make a longer time of data happen and is something we’re working towards a little faster.”

Would love to see more than 90 days worth, but I was glad to hear of Google’s announced of a deeper integration between Search Console and Google Analytics.

I am using both more and more and Google adds new features.

Great update here.
It’s good to understand what is in the backpocket of Google. Although we can easily see this get flushed just like G+’s, picasa or all the other great Google products that got abandoned.

Thanks for the post.

Great article,I find Rankbrain scary yet intriguing too. Thanks for the informative post.

Thanks for the post! Do you think that RankBrain will have a major impact on article creation and format?

Whenever a Googler speaks in such absolutes, be wary.

What a wonderful interview. This is huge informative question here.I thanks you for this to be write here.

Thanks for the post! Do you think that RankBrain will have a major impact on article creation and format?

Rankbrain seems to be one of the most important algorithm of 2016.

After reading I understand that google Panda and Penguin is important for SERP page. Thanks for presenting this article.

Really nice information here. I got some useful information here. i hope it will be useful for many peoples. Keep share like this.

When is google planning to publish a keyword tool dedicated only for SEO and not for only PPC mainly?

If the comments about RankBrain are taken at face value Mike, I don’t think you can ‘optimse’ for it in a traditional context.

RankBrain is learning what keywords and what search results perform well together and is constantly optimising towards that goal to improve relevancy/user satisfaction.

I think you’d ‘optimise’ for RankBrain by building the very best product and user experience you can. Think hard about what customers really want to achieve when they land onto a given landing page and optimse the entire user experience (not just that single landing page). You’d want to identify if/how you’re competitors are doing it better than you are today, then find a way to 1-up them so visitors to your site would sing your praises as having built a great product, business or service.

Not really sure how many have tried a full optimization based on understanding of rank brain …might be an interesting study


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