Udi Manber, Reading Between the Lines of a Search Engineer

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One of my favorite things to do when conducting SEO research is to find the latest off-the-beaten-path information. I like to find YouTube videos, blogs, and news that focus on Google’s current or former search engineers. Specifically, I am NOT talking about Matt Cutts (head of Google’s SPAM team), but rather the shockingly more nerdy rocket scientists that don’t function as the public relations face of Google. It’s within these obscure sources that I generally find my competitive advantages. On a more day to day basis, you would probably find me keeping up with the SEO community by checking sites, like Moz or similar.

On this specific Monday night, I decided to pry into the life of a certain Israeli computer scientist that is currently the VP of engineering on Google’s search team, Udi Manber. It’s really not rocket science to find web content relating to Google’s search engineers. You just have to… well… Google it. If you don’t know the names of any Google engineers you just have to… well… Google it.

Udi Manber is one very specific, somewhat prolific Google engineer that I like to follow. I found two recent pieces of web content containing valuable insights from Udi Manber. The first is a YouTube video of the Google Internet Summit 2009: Search and Cloud Computing. The other is an interview conducted by Rob of BusinessWeek on October 1st of 2009. Feel free to watch the video or read the interview by BusinessWeek to find your own insights, but here are a few I have identified that are worth sharing.

1. “We know that (child care) is similar to (childcare) and to (day care).”

This quote supports my theory that Google is weighting co-occurrence terms and synonyms of a given search query and not just the exact or derivative phrases. I would assume that this would count for on-page content, as well as inbound link anchor text and image alternative text. These co-occurrence terms and synonyms may communicate to Google that content containing them in combination with exact phrases is more relevant than content or inbound links simply containing exact or derivative keyword phrases. Google can easily identify these terms for most search queries as demonstrated by their related searches at the bottom of the SERPs (search engine results pages).

2. “Over 1000 man years have gone into the Google search code.”

This quote simply demonstrates the sophistication and complexity of Google’s “computationally intense algorithm”.

3. “People create fewer lists, find other ways to link such as Blogs and Twitter.”

I think that this phrase is very telling of the future of how Google will look at external factors that influence rankings. Links within blog posts will continue to be heavily weighted. More importantly, this phrase may speak to plans within the Googleplex to incorporate the social graph into the algorithm to affect web search and other search verticals. So if you haven’t been engaging in social media assuming it’s some sort of fad or a waste of time, maybe it’s time to WAKE UP and get involved.

4. “The way you interact with content if it loads even 55 milliseconds faster is enormous, Google’s experiments have proven”

This speaks to something I have assumed for a long time. Some will argue that if a metric does not directly speak to the relevancy of a given search query that it won’t affect rankings. I believe that this is false. Even Google Adwords ad’s quality scores are based in part by the load times of the landing page that the ads point to. Knowing how important real-time results, speed of indexing and the user experience are to Google I would assume that if all else is equal, load times will/do play some role with regards to how Google ranks websites. I don’t really know what you have to lose by finding every way possible to ensure that your website loads quickly.

Consequently, this will simply create a better experience for your users and probably lead to higher conversion rates. Most assume that reducing the amount of images or reducing image quality are the only ways to reduce load time, but this is simply not the case. You do NOT have to sacrifice image quality and the look of your website to improve load times. Research techniques, such as creating database indexes, MemCached, database sharding, javascript and other programming methods for dynamic websites. It also never hurts to over-compensate with regards to your server. Most of the time spending a few hundred extra dollars per month on server upgrades can have a major impact on the performance of your website.

5. “One-third of queries every day on Google are unique.”

This is a statistic that some might find hard to believe. In my opinion, this simply speaks to the importance of focusing on quality, keyword-rich content generation through blogs, news or forums. Constantly adding unique content to your website will help you win longtail search phrases, or search phrases with three or more words that are less competitive than shorter phrases.

6. “If somebody conducted a search for something and didn’t click on anything, that’s a sign that maybe the results are not good.”

This may be one of the most telling quotes from Udi Manber from tonight’s research. Google does factor CTRs (click through rates) into their search algorithm. If for some reason your website makes it to the first page of Google for a competitive search phrase and no one clicks on it, then why should it remain on the first page?

Finally, the takeaway here is to focus on creating effective page titles and meta description tags. You page titles and meta descriptions should contain exact keyword phrase matches, benefits and call to actions that would entice a searcher to click on your listing. Also, make sure to keep your page titles within the 68 character limit so they look clean and professional. Short, keyword rich URLs have also been shown to increase CTRs for listing.

Well, there you have it. In summary, this is one method I use to conduct SEO research and discover new metrics to test in-house. Comments and feedback are ALWAYS appreciated.

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