SMX West Speaker Series: Diving into SEO with Googler Gary Illyes
A major West Coast search marketing education event, Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West, comes to San Jose in one month. If you’re interested in attending, heads up! Early Bird rates expire Friday. Add our discount code for friends and clients, BRUCECLAYSMXW15, to get 10 percent off the cost of all passes and workshops, including Bruce Clay’s SEO Workshop on Monday, March 2.
Today we’re kicking off a month of interviews with brilliant minds from the SMX West speaker line up, including Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager at Bing; Bill Tancer, General Manager at Experian and New York Times best-selling author; Dr. Pete Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz; and Luke Summerfield, Partner Services Program Manager at HubSpot. Look for these white-hot interviews every week.
Up first is an interview with a very special guest: Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes. SMX West attendees can catch him speaking in two sessions on Wednesday, March 4:
- Things You Don’t Know About Mobile SEO, But Should (9 a.m.)
- How to Secure Your Site for Google’s HTTPS Algorithm (3:30 p.m.)
Diving into SEO with Advice from Google’s Illyes
Gary llyes is an avid sky diver and scuba diver. (That’s him above!) His adventuring personality probably serves him well when it comes to forging new frontiers in online security and mobile user experience. Here are some highlights from our interview, with Illyes’ comments in bold:
- What Gary works on at Google: We’re focusing on helping website owners and content creators develop beautiful, useful websites by improving and extending our outreach channels.
- On the importance of creating a good mobile experience: In several countries there are a large number of people that access the internet primarily through a mobile phone. Ignoring those people is hardly an option anymore, if you want to stay in business.
- On Google’s future: Suggestions and feedback from the community help us a lot, actually! My team’s goal is to help website owners with their issues, and the feedback will help us influence teams inside Google to deliver features and improve our products, including Webmaster Tools and Search.
- Information Gary seeks out to do his job: Knowing what kind of content would business owners read, what’s the writers’ technical level in general, or how can we better reach designers will hopefully steer our webmaster outreach in another, so far unexplored, better direction. In fact we don’t even know if we’re using the word “webmaster” correctly either; it would be nice to fix that, too.
Read the whole interview below. Let’s dive in!
Kristi Kellogg: What projects are you involved in as a Webmaster Trends Analyst? What does your day-to-day look like at Google?
Gary Illyes: I’m focusing mostly on large scale analysis and development, but I’m kind of the oddball in my team. We’re focusing on helping website owners and content creators develop beautiful, useful websites by improving and extending our outreach channels. This means that when needed, we may publish documentation for a new feature or evangelize it at conferences, or try to figure out what new audiences should we reach to help with creating a website. Indirectly all these efforts also help our users, those who search on Google, as they will find better results, and sites that are usable anywhere on any device.
This, of course, also means that we have to work with many teams inside Google, practically any team that develops features that may have an impact on webmasters. To list a few, Webmaster Tools, Web and Image Search, News, but really, I would need many more hands to count how many teams we work with.
KK: Before you were a Googler, you taught journalism. Do you ever feel you use your journalism background in your role as a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst?
GI: I was teaching journalist new grads how to apply what they learned — traditional offline journalism — on the online environment and how to publish engaging stories online. I don’t really use this skill now at Google, but of course my journalism background does help when communicating with the press in general, or when I talk at conferences. I’m used to talking to huge audiences, and that’s been really useful.
KK: At SMX East, you candidly said “You can blame me for the HTTPS ranking boost.” Your Google+ profile lists web security as one of your interests. On what fronts do you foresee Google fighting threats to online security in 2015?
GI: Several teams across Google, including Chrome and Search, are looking for ways to make the Internet a better, safer place. This is an ongoing effort and we’ll make announcements as we launch a new feature or improvement.
KK: What’s your 30-second pitch to your favorite small business owner on the importance of designing a good mobile website UX?
GI: I believe my pitch would depend on what kind of website we’re talking about, but for an online shop with international delivery I would probably go with this, with a reference to this Time article:
In several countries there are a large number of people that access the internet primarily through a mobile phone. Ignoring those people is hardly an option anymore, if you want to stay in business.
KK: Do you have any premonitions on the future of mobile website development and optimization? Whether related to new devices or Google’s guidelines and expectations of a good mobile UX?
GI: I don’t really have premonitions on the future of mobile website development, but I do hope that it will become natural for website owners to create beautiful, usable mobile friendly websites. Currently it feels that website owners think that creating such a website is a hassle, and they choose to delay development or not to do it. I really hope this will change; whether to create a mobile friendly website shouldn’t be a question at all!
KK: +Google Webmasters invited suggestions for improvements to Web search and Webmaster Tools in 2015. How much do suggestions and feedback from users influence the projects you and the Webmaster Trends team work on?
GI: Suggestions and feedback from the community help us a lot, actually! My team’s goal is to help website owners with their issues, and the feedback will help us influence teams inside Google to deliver features and improve our products, including Webmaster Tools and Search.
KK: There’s a common refrain in Google’s advice to SEOs and webmasters: do what’s best for users. Does any team, perhaps the Google Webmasters team, look out for webmasters, website owners and businesses as a priority?
GI: One of our goals is to try to figure out what’s best both for our users and the website owners, kind of trying to find the sweet spot. This is a challenging, but generally satisfying position to be in, as, if our input is taken in account during a feature development, we can help millions of webmasters, business owners, and ultimately users of search.
KK: Should we be gearing up for any special announcements when you take the stage at SMX West?
GI: If I told you we’ll have any special announcement at SMX West, I’d set an expectation which is not necessarily a good thing; generally we try not to pre-announce things, and the same applies on announcements as well. Also, pre-announcing an announcement feels too meta, and frankly we’re also quite far away from SMX so things may change on our end.
KK: Good point. Google has a program that sends Googlers to businesses in Europe and North Africa to observe firsthand how developers, designers, content creators, SEOs and decision-makers are managing their sites’ content and infrastructure. How is that program going? I learned about this because you shared it on Google+. What’s your interest in this program?
GI: This program was started by my team and it’s an ongoing effort. The holidays and other, unrelated issues slowed us down a notch, but in general it will help us better help those who are involved in creating websites. Knowing what kind of content would business owners read, what’s the writers’ technical level in general, or how can we better reach designers will hopefully steer our webmaster outreach in another, so far unexplored, better direction. In fact we don’t even know if we’re using the word “webmaster” correctly either; it would be nice to fix that, too.
KK: You speak at a lot of conferences on behalf of Google. Where will we see you in 2015?
GI: I have several conferences lined up for the first two quarters. It looks like the SMX organizers wouldn’t mind having me at their events, so there’s that, but I’ll be presenting at several other conferences as well, including Superweek in Hungary, RIMC in Iceland, and a few others that don’t have their schedule up yet.
KK: What were the best books (of any kind) you read last year? What’s on your reading list for this year?
I’m a collector with special interest in Japanese culture, so I read quite a bit on that (for example Kojiki or Nihon Shoki), but I do read contemporary authors, as well. Dan Brown, John Green, Steven Levy to name a few, they’re all present on my bookshelves. I don’t typically read “SEO” books or anything close to that topic so I can’t suggest anything from that category, but if I had to pick something random, for personal reasons I’d go with Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds.
KK: Sounds like you have an impressive bookshelf. Thanks for the book recommendation! Do you have any personal resolutions for 2015?
GI: I’m a person who lives for the moment: whatever comes, I’ll take it on. I’ll probably jump out of a few perfectly well-functioning planes, jump off of a few bridges, and explore the bottom of the Antarctic Ocean, but I don’t have specific plans yet though.
KK: Well that sounds exciting! What’s the best way to connect with you online?
Have a question of your own for SMX West speaker Gary Illyes? Ask in the comments.