State of Search

The biggest and brightest minds in the world of digital marketing convened in Deep Ellum, Texas for the State of Search, and they did not disappoint. There were presentations ranging from topics on PPC/SEM, SEO to what the experts believe the next moves in Search Engines will be.

Small business owners usually do not get the time or opportunity to attend such industry specific events to get the latest and greatest information and tactics.

BUT! Worry not, this is why I go to these conferences, evaluate and share my thoughts with you guys. The following keynote presenters painted a picture of where the state of search is headed.

stateofsearch2The FUTURE…

One of the most prevalent themes of the conference was that search is going to get a lot smarter in the future. A major topic is that in the coming years, more and more search queries will be handled by Google’s new machine learning mechanisms.

Opening Keynote Speaker Rand Fishkin of Moz, reinforced this point with his presentation. (He also reinforced that Deep Ellum was similar to Seattle during our walking conversation.)  He noted that dealing with search engines in the future will not be how it has been. Optimizing for search will go far beyond having perfectly optimized pages and backlinks. He stated that:

Google’s last 3 years of advancements erased a decade of old school SEO practices.

Google is now effectively identifying manipulative links and content through these algorithm advancements. They have created the fear and uncertainty of penalization for using “black hat” techniques and have scared away legitimate sites and businesses from practicing them. Google has enough data now to determine user intent when searching. They have embraced the idea of having a machine learning algorithm to use with their existing algorithm, so there are two algorithms working together to provide search results. Google is also looking to advance into Deep Learning and other facets of artificial intelligence to determine searcher intent, resulting in the algorithm building additional algorithms for itself as needed. (This is some Science Fiction stuff, right!? — Terminator’s Skynet, anyone?)

So what does all of this machine learning AI mean for small businesses trying to make their website rank in SEO?


This means that small businesses will not be able to “fake it before they make it”. Content, usefulness and the ability to answer a searcher’s intent and queries will have to be there, and it will have to be better than your competitors.

But, the future, according to Rand, is not now. SEO must now balance between the classic, keyword targeting, links, and on-page optimization tactics with the new emerging signals that the machine learning algorithm will follow. These emerging signals, according to Rand, will be things such as relative CTR, short versus long clicks (clicks and bounce backs on the search results pages), amplification, loyalty and ability to allow users to complete their search queries with your content (answering what the searcher was looking for and helping them stop their search for the query).  So starting now and going forward, small businesses will have to optimize for not only the search engines, but for people also. The distinction between the two is only going to get smaller and smaller.

The Insider…

Photo Credit: @GregGifford - Twitter
Photo Credit: @GregGifford – Twitter

Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes also presented during State of Search (yes, Dallas and cowboy hats are synonymous, right?). Ever since Google’s Matt Cutts has been on hiatus, Gary has become one of the public faces for Google when interacting with search and digital marketing. Being an insider and one of the few links to Google, Gary did give us tidbits of important information that would affect SEO and small businesses, although he claims to only know about 5% of the complete Google algorithm.

Here are some of the more interesting tidbits:

  • There are over 120 trillion URLs and around 60% of them are duplicates
  • He said he has implemented the https boost on websites, so consider it a “ranking signal”.
  • Googlebot doesn’t perform user interactions from Javascript, so if you are displaying data only after a javascript click, hover or other methods, Googlebot doesn’t read/crawl it.
  • From what he has seen, 40% of searchers abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load a usable page.
  • He also stressed the importance of using “structured data” ( on websites as it helps Google in understanding the content on your pages.

He also went on to provide a look at what Google will be concentrating on in the future:

  • They are working on understanding conversational search
    • i.e. What is the Empire State building, followed by queries such as “where is it?”, “what is it?
  • He also stressed that they will be doing more and more “featured snippets
  • They will be aggressively pushing an initiative called AMP (accelerated mobile pages)
    • This will be important, because when Google pushes something, it usually will be highly integrated into future ranking signals. Get started on this now!
  • and he also said that Google wants websites to answer searcher’s intent (machine learning)

The Other Guy…

Photo Credit: @matt_siltala - Twitter
Photo Credit: @matt_siltala – Twitter

The ending keynote for State of Search came from former Bing Sr. Product Marketing Manager (now VP of Organic Search Operations for Bruce Clay, Inc.), Duane Forrester. He gave a presentation on looking ahead in the world of search, and overall digital marketing.  High points are:

  • It is time to start marketing to the Millennials because as Baby Boomers move on, they will leave behind 7 trillion dollars to the next generation.
  • Millennials are “thrifty” and like to save money.
  • While Baby Boomers like to ask advice from close friends and family during the buying cycle, Millennials on the other hand, like to crowd source their information from online sources and social media.
  • Search and Digital Marketing need to adhere to the values and mindset of Millennials.
  • He said that the amount of data that companies such as search engines collect has grown massively in the past few years. He stated that from the beginning of time until 2003, only 5 exabytes of data was generated. Today, that amount takes approximately 5 minutes to achieve.

He finished off by saying that within search, people need to stop thinking about driving traffic, but concentrate on helping a visitor complete their task. The most important aspect of the future of search is going to be helping the searcher as efficiently and completely as possible.

The END, or Future?


State of Search’s theme was about looking ahead to the quickly evolving future, both within search and also within the demographics that are going to be using search. Small businesses must know what these changes are and the ones that will succeed are the ones already thinking about these new strategies. We are undeniably heading towards a future that is filled with more and more artificial intelligence blended with machine learning.

Gary Illyes provided insight into one of Google’s projects to create a personal digital assistant. (Think more like the movie HER than Siri).  So naturally, small businesses need to know how to position themselves on this digital plane, and utilize the vast amount of data generated to their advantage.

New generations, new technologies and new small business mentalities.  The future is soon!