Interview with Gary Illyes – Google Webmaster Trends Analyst

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Gary Illyes Interview

Every website owner wants to know what works and does not work with Google to increase their search engine rankings. Well, we’ve got the answers from Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst himself—Gary Illyes. Here is my exclusive interview that I recently conducted with Gary. He provides some very interesting and useful information on topics such as website content, SSL, social media, negative SEO, the new domain extensions, and video search.

Web Hosting Cat: What would be your number one piece of advice for website owners trying to get their sites to rank higher in the search engines?

Gary Illyes: That’s a great question. I think in general we want content creators to focus on just one thing: And that would be the user. That’s what we do and that’s what they should do as well. It’s really not about making money. If your number one priority is to make money, then you’re probably doing it wrong. You have to figure out how to help the user. And then the money will also follow.

WHC: In terms of website content, is there an ideal length that a post or article should be to rank well in search engines?

GI: Not really. You can see content of different lengths in our search results. Some of them are ranking really high even though they are just three sentences. Some of them are really long articles. It really doesn’t matter. It kind of matters on what users demand—what satisfies their information needs. For example, if a one-liner can satisfy their information need for a specific query, that will perform really great in search results.

WHC: Does SSL really give websites a boost in search engine rankings?
Do you recommend that huge, established sites convert to https?

GI: There is definitely a boost. I developed that algorithm and I know that there is a boost. It is active and it’s online in the search results, so it works 100% of the time. Whether big sites should switch? I would say definitely yes, because it gives the user the impression that the site cares about their privacy. That’s one thing. The other thing is that with SSL—actually it’s TLS nowadays—you can avoid content injection. What you want to serve will show up in the user’s post as well.

WHC: How important is social media popularity when it comes to search engine rankings?

GI: Not at all. We don’t use social signals in our rankings to the best of my knowledge. There is a very good reason for that. It’s because one, it’s very noisy. The second one is that as soon as the social media platform decides that we shouldn’t have access to their content, we are one signal less. And we just can’t do that. We have to be able to gather our signals all of the time. It has to be consistent. Now, how important it is for your rankings in general? It’s not for the rankings. It’s more about content distribution. So, for example if you can convince, let’s say an influencer to share your content, then you will get more visitors.

WHC: What are the best ways to protect yourself against negative SEO affecting your search engine rankings? When do you recommend that someone use the Disavow Tool?

GI: That’s an interesting question. Quite frankly, I looked into probably a couple dozen cases where people were reporting negative SEO—and none of them was actually negative SEO. I personally don’t have evidence that would support that negative SEO exists. Disavow Files are great to give you a peace of mind. So for example, if you see lots of links that you don’t want, then you can get rid of those links easily with the Disavow Tool. But then on the flip side of the coin, you can also shoot yourself in the foot with a disavow file, because if you are disavowing links that are high quality and they have high value, then they won’t contribute to your rankings.

WHC: Will any of the new domain extensions have any impact on search engine results in the future? Is it better to stick with a .com?

GI: That’s an excellent question again. In general, we don’t give any preference to the generic top level domain names. So for example, if you go with a .photography—sure go ahead and do it. You won’t get any more benefits than you would get with .com.

WHC: For video, are there any optimization tips you can give? Is there a big difference in the way Google Video Search works versus the YouTube search engine?

GI: Google video search is very different from YouTube search. They are two different search engines. Google video in general takes into account what web masters and content owners provide on page and in sitemaps. YouTube—I have no idea—I don’t work on YouTube. But for example for Google Video, if you provide schema org video on your pages, basically telling search engines on the page what the video is about—the length, content distribution restrictions, and such stuff, then search engines will make use of it–same for xml sitemaps.

Be sure to listen to the complete interview with Gary on our podcast.

Gary Illyes Podcast Interview