7 takeaways from the SMX Next keynote with Hyung-Jin Kim, VP Search at Google
It's rare to hear about the inner workings of Google's rankings, new products and algorithm updates straight from the source.
We were lucky to get that this morning at SMX Next, as Hyung-Jin Kim, the VP of Search at Google, candidly shared some perspectives about the direction of Google's algorithms and the critical focus on satisfying user intent.
From the importance of E-A-T to the history of Google updates, Kim shared many important insights about how Google search works.
Here are seven of the most important takeaways from the SMX Next keynote.
1. The relationship between webmasters, SEOs, and Google is one of a partnership
SEOs don't always have the best reputation. It's also common to hear SEOs claiming that Google is against them, particularly when it rolls out major algorithm updates.
But according to Kim, the relationship between webmasters, SEOs, and Google is more of a "partnership." All parties are interested in improving the experience for the user (as long as you're doing the type of SEO Google recommends in its guidelines; not the kind that directly violates those guidelines!).
2. E-A-T is pervasive throughout everything Google does
When asked about whether E-A-T only matters for specific queries - particularly the queries Google refers to as YMYL (your money, your life) - Kim stated:
"E-A-T is a template for how we rate an individual site. We do it to every single query and every single result. It's pervasive throughout every single thing we do."
While Google's quality guidelines themselves indicate that E-A-T matters more depending on the nature of the query (particularly those queries that can cause harm to the user), Kim was clear that the role of E-A-T greatly matters across all queries.
This is why Google has increasingly used the acronym "E-A-T" as synonymous with "good content quality" in so many of its communications in recent years.
Interestingly, Kim also noted that Google has been using E-A-T for approximately 10-13 years, which dates it back to 2009-2013. In the SEO community, we weren't publicly made aware of this concept until the 2014 version of the Search Quality Rater Guidelines, and the role of E-A-T didn't start to take the forefront of the SEO discussion until about 2018.
3. Google's algorithm updates generally share the same mission, but the technology behind them has improved
In terms of the goals of major Google updates dating back to the Panda days, Kim indicated that the focus has largely been the same: improving the quality of results for users and elevating content that best satisfies the searcher's experience.
However, according to Kim, the most significant change with algorithm updates is the technology behind them.
In the past 5-10 years, AI has significantly changed Google's ability to understand what searchers are actually looking for, particularly with the use of deep neural networks.
Kim offered an example of how BERT enabled Google to better understand the query "jewelry for work."
Before BERT, Google showed results related to working in the jewelry industry. After BERT, the emphasis on the word "for" became more important for Google to understand the query, and it instead surfaced results related to jewelry that's appropriate for work or jewelry that can withstand hard work.
4. First-hand experience plays a key role in good content
Kim described the importance of first-hand expertise in review content, in line with some of Google's communications around the recent product reviews updates.
As an example, when Kim looks for a new tennis racket, he likes to see content that proves that the user has actually spent time with the products and done real tests, as opposed to regurgitating the specifications found across many sites.
This thinking is very much in line with what Google has recently told us about reviewing content quality with core, product reviews and helpful content updates.
5. The Search Quality team is focused on math and metrics, but they're also highly empathetic
Kim mentioned that the Search Quality team (which is responsible for how content ranks on Google) relies heavily on data, math, and the latest technology to improve rankings, but they are also highly empathetic.
Kim indicated that they can be skeptical of the data, and are highly focused on the actual user experience. Queries can be short but meaningful, and it's important that rankings can reflect the actual intent behind the searcher's query.
Kim gave the example of the query "depression." While it's helpful to show various informational results about depression, this search query could also signal that the user is asking for help - so Google believes it's important to display resources to help the user in the results.
6. Google algorithm updates aim to improve the overall quality of the web
While SEOs like to think about algorithm updates in a vacuum and focus on how they impact individual sites, Kim provided some context about the role that the updates have in improving the overall quality of the internet.
Updates dating back to Panda - which is now incorporated into the core algorithm - gave Google a way to mitigate the rise of content farms and other spam tactics that create a worse experience across the overall web.
Google is focused on larger trends of how to make the internet a better place for users.
7. More visual search results are on the horizon
When asked about the future of SEO, Kim quickly mentioned visual search - particularly Multisearch.
Google has made significant advancements in its ability to understand images and enable searchers to use images as the search query.
Kim believes this will be a significant shift to search in the coming years, particularly with Multisearch, which combines image and text queries.
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