Matt Cutts Keynote at #Pubcon Las Vegas 2013

Matt Cutts asks the Vegas crowd at 9 a.m. how we’re doing and there’s a rousing cheer. That shows the level of interest this webmaster audience has in hearing Matt, what’s going on with Google and what direction Google is moving in.

He’ll start with moves over the last year.

Matt Cutts keynote
Matt Cutts presents a keynote at PubCon Las Vegas 2013.

Moonshot Changes

Larry Page says “think big.”

  • Knowledge Graph: Things not strings. Knowing what’s really behind a query
  • Voice search: Getting better and better
  • Conversational search: think pronouns
  • Google Now: looking steps ahead where people may not even be querying
  • Deep learning: Thousands of computers being used to learn neural networks

You can voice search “Who is the prime minister of Turkey?” – and Google knows Turkey is a proper noun here because of Knowledge Graph. It will give you the answer. Then you can say “how old is he?” and it will give you the next answer. That’s Knowledge Graph, voice search and conversational search working together.

Core Quality Changes

  • Hummingbird: If you’re doing a query, it might be a natural language query, and it might include words you don’t need. “What is the capital of everlovin’ Texas?” Hummingbird is a step in the direction to figure out the words that matter more and give those words more intelligent scoring. There’s a lot being written about Hummingbird and the fact is it doesn’t affect SEO. It makes the results of long-tail and specific queries much better.
  • Panda softening: There are always those grey-zone sites in Panda’s targets and some new signals they’ve added are meant to ease up on those sites.
  • Detecting/boosting authorities: If you’re a topical authority, keep deepening that content.
  • Smartphone ranking: If a searcher has a phone that doesn’t do Flash, Google is less likely to deliver results with Flash

Webspam Changes

  • Penguin 2.0 and 2.1: At Penguin 2.0 they were really working on a soft landing. A lot of spammers laughed at the release, so Google said, “Okay, we can turn that knob higher…” and that was 2.1.
  • Algorithms for very spammy queries, like “payday loans.” There are spaces where a lot of spam goes on.
  • Advertorials/native advertising: As long as these are marked clearly, there’s nothing wrong with this. But they’ve taken action on a dozen big publications in the US and UK
  • Continuing action on spam networks: They have a list of items they plan to hit.


  • New videos for malware/hacking: Trying to help people preventatively not get hacked and get a warning when they do get hacked
  • Concrete examples in guidelines
  • >100 speaking events, Hangouts on Air, webmaster office hours: There’s a ton of Google people who are attending lots of events and talking about topics online. Dial into office hours because they want to be accessible.
  • How Search Works website: If you’re willing to pay hundreds of dollars to go to a search conference, go to this free site where you’ll see the kinds of spam Google takes action on, and where the webspam team takes the most action. You can even see live screenshots of spam sites they’re taking out, like looking over their shoulder as they fight spam.

Future of Search

Big future trends:

  • Machine learning: They’re going to keep trying to figure out how to add more value to searchers
  • Mobile: In 2011, YouTube had 6% of traffic from mobile phones. In 2012 it was 25% and in 2014 mobile is expected to be 40% of YouTube’s traffic. If you haven’t figured out your strategy for mobile, you better be thinking about it.
  • Social/identity/authorship: Knowing who you are and identity can make a big difference. It’s a long-term signal that you’re a person people listen to.

Webspam trends:

Over the next few months it’s going to look like Google’s not doing much. They’re going to be working on things no one will see.

  • Hacking: Black hat that people would go to prison for
  • Blocking child porn when people are searching on Google
  • No Toolbar PageRank scheduled for the rest of the year: The “export” to the Google Toolbar is a pipeline that broke and they decided to just leave it and not staff anyone to revive that pipeline.


  • Mobile: Get ready. Responsive design or m.? Fix your issue of how you’re seen on mobile devices.
  • Learn about requestAutocomplete. Annotate your forms: If you have a form on your website, people don’t like that experience. Having that form makes things more difficult. requestAutocomplete is a standard where you can markup your forms (add an extra attribute to your forms) and sites that support that will let users one-click fill out the form.
  • Ad-heavy pages above the fold. This will have a greater impact on other language sites like Arabic and Russian than English but they’re working on next iteration algos that target ads above the fold.
  • Tightening Authorship: About a 15% reduction. They found that when they reduce the amount of Authorship they show they are improving the quality.
  • Rich Snippets may depend on site quality: If you’re a reputable site then they’ll trust Rich Snippets on your site.
  • Google will get smarter on JavaScript: Common JS libraries will probably be good for Google indexing.

Worth doing now:

  • Sign up for Webmaster Tools
  • Subscribe to:
    • @googlewmc
    • Webmaster blog
    • Inside Search blog
    • Webmaster Video Channel


Brett Tabke of Pubcon asks Matt if he heard what Jason Calacanis said at his keynote yesterday. Matt says this is not a wrestling match, the search industry shouldn’t want Matt and Jason to fight. Matt has huge respect for Jason and how he calls it like he sees it. But he’ll try to give context.

Jason said that “a lot of babies got thrown out with the bath water.” The changes could have been rolled out slowly and some warning could have been given to publisher partners.

Matt shows that in 2011 a lot of people were calling Google out for not being on-top of a spammy content situation. Google had been working on content quality for a long time but everyone decided to get angry at once. He points to half-dozen articles from people like Read Write Web and Kristina Halvorsen complaining about content farms and content targeting long-tail queries producing junk content in results. Mahalo’s content was included in calls out.

Example: How to Stub Your Toe

1. Choose a place to walk
2. Pick a cardinal direction to walk
3. Walk
4. Continue to walk
5. Stub toe

In the example above, each numbered step is followed by a paragraph of overly descriptive and not-very helpful keyword stuffed text, like:

How to pour milk: “Position the opening, or orifice, of the container over, or on top of, some type of receptacle such as a glass, cup, mug, bowl, teacup, small pitcher, measuring cup or saucer.”

For Mahalo, just because they were a partner doesn’t mean they got advanced notice about what Google’s doing to improve search. And it’s hard to go into a meeting with a passionate business owner and tell them that their site is one of the most blocked sites in a Chrome add-on.

Panda takeaways:

  • Content farms were a serious issue
  • We couldn’t roll out changes slowly
  • We didn’t give partners special treatment

Panda had to be launched quickly so that signals could be iterated and improved. Panda was given a good grade. From the NY Times:

“Just a short time ago, the web seemed ungovernable; bad content was driving out good. But Google asserted itself, and credit is due: Panda represents good cyber-governance. It has allowed Google to send untrustworthy, repetitive and unsatisfying content to the back of the class.”


When you talk about Google+ signals you always talk about +1s. What about sharing a link or shares?

He talks about +1s a lot mainly because it’s emblematic of the social behavior. The broader picture is the same. It’s still short-term for social signals, but he’s bullish about the long-term social effect in identity.

Infinite scrolling is more common; can you address it?

It’s tricky, it’s like a calendar in that Googlebot could keep crawling all the way to the year 3000. You may want to think about having some kind of paginated interface where people can scroll through. You want to build in safeguards because even if Google does well, there’s still smaller search engines.

How can a small site build authority?

Go back to basics. A blog, a forum. Writing unique descriptions, more catchy and compelling. Anything creative. Think of the last 5 things you shared on Facebook or Twitter and those are the kinds of catchy content that builds authority.

Can citations or mentions in PDFs like an ebook add authority?

He’s not taking this off the table but says Google would be suspicious of this because spammers would use this.

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.

Comments (8)
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8 Replies to “Matt Cutts Keynote at #Pubcon Las Vegas 2013”

You have summarized it very well.

Thanks Virginia great insight.

Thank you, Virginia. This is the most informative summary of the conference that I have found.

I think covered almost everything which i saw in the video. Thanks

Happy to be of service, Aditya.

Thanks Virginia very great post.


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