Matt Cutts At Pubcon 2013: Moonshots, Machine Learning & The Future Of Google Search

This morning, the head of Google’s webspam team Matt Cutts gave a keynote speech at Pubcon in Las Vegas. The keynote comes on the heels of a scathing day — 1 keynote from Jason Calacanis, who said that Google rules everything, that they were essentially evil. On Twitter yesterday, Matt asked if Jason wanted the polite response, or a thorough one.  All of us here in attendance are hoping for “thorough.”


Matt starts with the state of the index talking about where will Google go in future.

He’s proud that Google as doubled down on ‘moonshot’ changes, specifically:

  • Knowledge Graph Google has been trying to understand entities — not just the searches. So essentially they are trying to learn about “things not strings.”
  • Voice Search
  • Conversational Search
  • Google Now Matt is proud that today, sometimes you don’t even have to search to find information you need.
  • Deep Learning Google is looking more into the relationships between words. Google will be able to read at a higher level and interpret the relationships between words. Works well with voice search when a user asks Google, “Who is the Prime Minister of Turkey?” then searches again for “How old is he?” and Google can reply with the previous context.

Core Quality Changes

  • Hummingbird This change targets better natural language translation. Search is more than just matching words — instead it’s looking at specific words that are more meaningful for intelligent scoring. For instance, a voice search for “what is the capital of Texas, my Dear” the “my Dear” isn’t that important — Hummingbird will be able to detect this. While Hummingbird affected 90% of queries, it was a very subtle change that most users didn’t recognize but will help users get more pertinent results.
  • Panda Softening This is something that Google has looked into to help bring some sites and content back.
  • Detecting/Boosting Authorities Not done by hand, but applies by topic areas. Webmasters can keep deepening their content on a topic to further their authoritativeness on a specific content area.
  • Smartphone Ranking Doesn’t have flash? won’t display a site that has flash to you then.

Webspam Changes

  • Penguin 2.0 & 2.1 Penguin 2.0 was released – not that intensive. Black hats said wasn’t big, so Google then released turned it up in 2.1. More changes will be continually coming, so buckle up.
  • Spammy Query Algorithms Items like porn and payday loans will be targeted for better results. Right now the SERPS aren’t great, but they will be working on it.
  • Advertorials/Native Advertising Google has cracked down on publishers selling ads that blended in as editorial with dofollow links.. You shouldn’t be paying for links that pass pagerank.
  • Spam Networks They’ve got a pretty good list, just working their way down them. Matt joked that he should talk a poll to determine who to axe next.


Google has done a great job of increasing the communication with webmasters, especially:

  • New videos for malware/hacking
  • Concrete examples in guidelines
  • >100 speaking events, Hangouts on Air, webmaster office hours
  • How search works website

Future of Search

  • Machine Learning Google’s goal is to provide the world information.  The word “search engine” isn’t anywhere in their mission statement. They want to be able to give answers to specific queries.
  • Mobile Mobile is coming faster than anyone expected. 40% of YouTube videos are now served to mobile devices. If you haven’t thought about mobile, it’s time to start thinking about it.
  • Social/Identity/Authorship Matt starts with “Facebook did a great job of social and knowing who people are.” Then talks about the fact that signal is not just likes/+1s/Tweets but in the long terms; social signals are a sign of authority. You are someone worth listening to — search engines will think you are worth listening to as well.

Webspam Trends

  • Hacking Next 6 months – it’s going to look like we aren’t working on much. Now working on next generation of hacking. Queries like “buy viagra” still looks bad because people are breaking the laws.
  • Hot Topics Items like child porn, international issues and really nasty queries are being addressed.
  • No Toolbar PageRank scheduled for rest of year The pipeline for updating PageRank broke this year and PageRank stopped updating. Google realized that it wasn’t that bad and stopped updating as people seem to pay too much attention to the metric. It’s something they will reassess at a later time.


  • Mobile Get ready, you need a mobile plan.
  • Request Autocomplete New item in Chrome that allows users to auto-fill forms. Saves users time by using the standard to pull in all information and increase chance of conversions.
  • Ad-heavy pages above the fold Some tweaks are coming to “turn up” this algorithm. Users shouldn’t see a barrage of ads above the fold when they visit a site.
  • Tightening Authorship Matt mentions that a tightening of Authorship may provide better results. Google is looking for a 15% reduction to ensure that the quality of the authorship is still high and relevant.
  • Rich Snippets The ability to have and use rich snippets may be taken away for low quality sites in the coming months
  • Smarter on JavaScript Google is now fetching, rendering and indexing items called by JavaScript. Google is getting smarter and understanding smarter libraries.

Now to the Q and A section:

Matt talks about +1′s specifically and that they are a short term signal, but very bullish on long term signal of authorship.  Next Matt talks about Negative SEO. Worked on Negative SEO for years. With Penguin, it not only removes sites, but can actually have a negative effect on the site. Disavow tool announced last year, use as a last resort. Use Webmaster Tools, find links and disavow at link or domain level. Webmaster tools is now giving better backlinks, not just A-Z, so use Webmaster Tools to help identify, can see 100,000 links.

In response to Jason Calacanis’ claims from yesterday, Matt polls the crowd on whether or not to go into the matter. Crowd wants to hear the response. Matt talks about the initial version of Panda and whether or not they should have rolled out slowly. Matt says that this wouldn’t have been good and cites multiple articles showing the degrading quality of the search results. Google needed Panda. A Googler made a personal blocklist to block specific sites and nearly 200k users installed — people did not want these content farms.

In response to Jason’s claims that Google wasn’t a good partner, Matt talked about the fact that no companies have partnerships with Google. There are YouTube partnerships, not Google search partnerships. In aggregate, Mahalo simply wasn’t a quality site and they came to an impasse at a personal meeting. This wasn’t even a webspam issue, it was a quality issue and nobody received special treatment.

With the Mahalo issue behind, Matt talks about press releases. “If you are paying for PageRank, you probably aren’t doing something right.” Google has identified “a lot” of the top Press Release sites and ignores the links but doesn’t penalize those who are using them.

On infinite scrolling issues, Matt recommends using some type of paginated versions as a safety guard to index all content. On the growing size of the Google bar, Matt mentions that they are aware of the size and pixels being taken up by Google.

That’s a wrap folks.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google | Google: General | Top News


About The Author: is the Chief Marketing Officer for Cypress North, a company that specializes in social media and search marketing services and web-based application development. He has been in the Internet marketing industry for 6+ years and specializes in Social Media Marketing. You can also find Greg on Twitter (@gregfinn) or LinkedIn.

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  • Ari Nahmani

    Great sum up, Greg! Hope to see you again soon.

  • Scott

    poorly written piece

  • Li Ma

    Given the current trend of mobile usage and mobile search, something big may happen by the end of 2013 for mobile organic search. his also seems to be indicated at many search marketing events by industry experts and speakers from Google. Who knows, maybe if you don’t have mobile friendly site, Google won’t
    even return your desktop results anymore for mobile searches… Besides mobile, natural language search/conversational search is the future direction that all major search engines are heading into.

  • Rohit Palit

    No rich snippets for low-quality since. I’ve been noticing that since the beginning of this year. No one in G+ authorship experts group, or any other expert community didn’t give a damn to my theory.

  • Durant Imboden

    A comment on “rich snippets”: They’re flaky at best. I see rich snippets for bylined posts in our low-traffic ancillary blogs, but not for our main site (which has far more in-depth content). I *used* to have bylines and photos next to most of my articles in Google Search results, but they disappeared a number of months ago.

    Google also needs to rethink how it’s been handling location-based EMDs. For some of the travel-related queries that I watch, low-quality or even irrelevant EMD pages seem to have floated to the top by accident (not because of clever SEO efforts, which would be more understandable).

  • Mark Traphagen

    Rohit, if you are referring to the Google Authorship and Author Rank Community on Google+, I own and run that community. I would like to see a link from you of a post where we “didn’t give a damn” about your theory. I must have missed that, because I would’ve chimed in. I too have said for a long time that Google was going to crack down on Authorship connected to crap. Google confirmed this two months ago when they released their Advanced FAQ on Authorship.

  • eDigitalFields

    This is an interesting update about all unique features in the search engine for now and the future to come. Throughout all the listed updates, what ‘s your favorite? or you think it’s necessary.

  • Rohan Ayyar

    Is the Chrome Autocomplete something like Google Instant for forms? I’m not sure I got it.. Auto-save in forms has been around since the days of Internet Explorer, hasn’t it? Is Auto-fill different from auto-save?

  • Rohan Ayyar

    Matt Cutts also said they have an internal, daily-updated-and-monitored version of PR. Why shouldn’t we pay attention to it, then? :D

  • Pierre Gardin

    “what is the capital of Texas, my Dear”

    I wouldn’t call Google “my dear”. I would call it “Dave”.

  • Jon Dunn

    Penguin still has a lot of work to do. Many examples of spam link profiles dominating the SERP’s…

  • Sathiya Kumar

    Matt said “No companies have partnerships with Google”. Is it true? :-)

  • Sav Szymura

    Will there be a video released?

  • Rohit Palit

    Uhm did my reply actually get deleted?

  • Mark Traphagen

    Rohit do you mean here, or in the Authorship community?

  • Mark Traphagen

    A small correction on the Authorship section: I listened to a video of the keynote, and Matt didn’t commit to any particular size of reduction in showing Authorship snippets. The 15% was in reference to tests they’ve run where reducing by “10-15% significantly improved quality.”

  • Rohit Palit

    I posted a huge reply here yesterday which seems to be missing. :(

    It basically stated that I wasn’t referring to the G+ community. I was referring to Google product forums. G+ Authorship Community = poor choice of words.

    Anyway, I almost forgot about the community in Google+ itself. I posted there as well ( and the replies weren’t too interesting (most of them didn’t care about the original question and kept on suggesting me random things instead).

  • Rohit Palit
  • Mark Traphagen

    Rohit, that G+ link isn’t working from here. Could you message it to me on G+. I’d like to take a look at the thread.

  • Rohit Palit
  • Mark Traphagen

    That worked. Thanks!

  • Mark Traphagen

    OK read it. They were not posting “random things.” They were giving you the solution; you just refused to accept it. Bottom line: you have authorship set up wrong. Of course it doesn’t work. Try following the advice Terry and others there were giving you.

  • Rohit Palit

    I have authorship perfectly set up. it’s not an author detection issue. it’s a snippet displaying issue. Is it too hard to guess that?

  • Mark Traphagen

    We should stop debating this here. Further replies will be on that community thread.

  • Rohit Palit


  • newyorker_1

    that is the point with all these pandas, penguins etc. Google don’t want “clever SEO efforts” to work. The goal is to confuse anyone working with SEO on what works and what not. And they are successful I think. That’s why sites that don’t do anything about SEO sometimes end up on page 1 simply because few people linked to their site. I’ve seen sites with 50 backlinks outranking established sites with thousands of backlinks.

  • Natan Gesher

    Poorly written comment.

  • Andy Kuiper – SEO Analyst

    With regard to rich snippets, it would be nice to know what the factors are that determine “low quality sites” – is it really a quality issue, or a traffic issue?

  • Corey Barnett

    I would also like to know the answer Andy. I would think it would be the authority of the Google + profile, not the authority of the website, but I would like to know.

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