Interview with Gary Illyes on Big Digital Adelaide Part 1

Interview with Gary Illyes on Big Digital Adelaide Part 1 pixelwork

Interview with Gary Illyes on Big Digital Adelaide Part 1

Gary Illyes, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google since 2011, is a very interesting figure at Google. Many in the search world are comparing him to the new Matt Cutts, but if this is the case, there are few people on the planet who know as much about what's going on at Google as Mr. Illyes.

When he's not “Creating a better user search experience, helping webmasters build amazing websites,” analyzing data, or reinventing search, Gary can be found helping (or trolling) users on Twitter, jumping out of moving planes , Gary is the man with all the answers about Google algorithms.

We spoke to Gary at Big Digital Adelaide and tried to trip him up and spill the beans.

google-webmasterWhat is your first memory of the internet?

Gary: 28K modem sound.

Enter: *beep boop boop*

Gary: Yes, exactly. With my brother, I learned to sing that tone and whistle it because we realized that the same pattern is always followed, except when there were problems with the line, then the sounds were different. But yes, it is my first memory. And of course we were teenagers and we had to download photos and see how the images were rendered on the computer. images of cats.

Entr: Yes, of course.
Gary: It took a very long time to load and I remember how frustrating it was. But we were mostly living in Romania and they have incredible Internet there.

In: Really?

Gary: Yeah, for a long, long time, probably 20 years now. The first time I was in the USA. They were still struggling with half a megabit in DSL and by then in Romania, 100 megabit synchronous connection was quite common.

Enter: Oh, wow. And your ancestor is being an online journalism professor.

Gary: Yes.

What are your thoughts about Google Podium?

Gary: Personally I think it's an interesting way to present content. It's a very fresh idea, I think, and can easily satisfy users' information needs. I don't know where he's going or what's going to happen to him. We like to experiment with this kind of thing and just see how it performs.

Entr: What will happen to old content (e.g. news) with Google's Podium Instant Articles feature? Do you see content published directly in search results as having potential value beyond its useful life in its first seven days, and will be able to be consulted?

Gary: I would like to see, in a sense, the posts archived. I think it is very good for humanity to preserve knowledge. We wouldn't know much about history if it weren't humanity's priority to archive things. So I hope we continue with that.

Entr: We need to make sure future generations have access to all these wonderful Snaps of our lives.

Gary: Yeah, it's not like it's about posting stuff about what I was doing early in the morning after coffee.

Entr: Yes – and also, remember: these thoughts are Gary's and are not representative of Google.

Gary: I mean, some of them are, but in a lot of cases, I probably won't have a good answer from Google's side because I just don't work on the product, for example, like Google Post. In those cases, instead of saying I don't have an answer and stopping, I would prefer to say something that is my personal opinion.

Entr: Sure. Therefore Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Just by a few dots and commas, this mission has not changed since the company's takeover in 1998.


What has changed is that the search engine has grown into a colossal learning monolith, almost always delivering the correct answer, and in an eighth of a second. This implies that Google does not want to lower the quality of its results, and the technology they use to separate the wheat from the chaff has improved.

What are some ways webmasters can change their behavior to focus on providing a better user experience?

Gary: Our goal was always to provide the most relevant results for our users and it hasn't changed over the years. The correct answer...well, it's not correct, but the answer might be relevant from a local site. It doesn't have to be from a high-quality site, but in most cases it is.

Overall, I hope that the editors would put in the effort to create high-quality sites rather than trying to sell Viagra in a Canadian casino without a prescription, and we will try to reward the sites by featuring them in our search results.

Entr: This doesn't include manipulation and all these types of tactics that SEOs often want to take as shortcuts.

Gary: Going out and buying 5.000 links from a Russian spammer is not a good idea in general; but sure, it could work for a few hours.

Entr: Google is very good at detecting these patterns. The way I see it, Google is trying to replicate the real world. The real world is full of entities and relationships between them.

How important is it to give Google clues through semantic markup or is Google pretty good at working on this on its own?

Gary: I think the answer is both. We are very good at triangulating answers or facts in general. We have multiple sources of information to validate its correctness to the vault of knowledge. Schema markup, for example, is also a very important part of search.

Entr: Is it a sign that if you find it, it precedes other signs? Is it advantageous?

Gary: It's not very visible in general. To summarize for example, it is. For recipes, it is. For movie reviews, it is. But other than that, webmasters or content producers generally won't see a clear benefit. It's more about making sure search engines understand the content well.

So for example, if you're talking on your pages about Apple, then that's pretty ambiguous unless you specify which entity you're talking about. Are you talking about the fruit or the company? And one way to do it is to have the Schema Markup on your pages.

Entr: So it is beneficial when there is disambiguation of terms?

Gary: Yes, maybe. Yes. And it's generally good for search engines because they understand the content of the page better.

Entr: RankBrain has been mentioned as the third most important ranking factor. You said it allows Google to better understand queries. It has no effect on crawling or indexing or sorting.

Can you explain how RankBrain allows Google to better understand queries? And how does it fit into the core of the algorithm?

Gary: That's it?

In: Yes.

Gary: Do you want fries with your combo?

Entr: Yes, please. Do you have a diagram?

Gary: Yes, RankBrain. Its importance depends on the way you look at it. It is an important ranking factor as it affects almost all queries. In many cases, it won't do anything for the query stack because the results are already qualified by the core sorting algorithm. But for queries we haven't seen before – very long complex queries – it can produce very good predictions about what works best for the user.

What it does is look at the query against the previously fed database and tries to make a prediction from the set results in order to provide results that work best for a specific query. It is also very good at processing negative queries correctly.

Entr: So you learn from users?

Gary: It's an online learning algorithm. It is updated from time to time with new data.

Entr: Sure. And potentially your favorite question.

What percentage of the Internet is human, as opposed to robots?

Gary: Well, that's an interesting question. Typically in percentage of big data it's 30 to 70.

Entr: Humans in relation to robots?

Gary: Yes.

Entr: Wow, and is it the same on mobile and desktop devices?

Gary: Yes, actually it is.

Entr: Interesting. So there are a lot of bots out there.

Gary: Oh yeah. We continually try to strangle the robots that are crawling through our results, and sometimes they even manage to get into the search results only to ruin them. It's not a big deal for us, but it's something we keep an eye on. If they are not too aggressive, no action is usually taken against them. But if they get aggressive and harm our users' search experience, we block them.

What kinds of things or signals could Google look at to discover a user's intent?

Gary: Usually. I think my best example is “Apple” or “Amazon” or “orange” or “python.” He was playing with a python a few days ago on Kangaroo Island and…

Entr: Were you programming?

Gary: No.

Enter: No?

Gary: Exactly. If we see that a user was previously more interested in the programming language than the animal, then we might favor programming related results when the user searches for “python.”

Entr: Is that data collected from cookies, Google+ accounts, Chrome, or a combination of all these different things?

Gary: To the best of my knowledge, it comes from the search results.


Source: Kwasi Studios