It was a month or so back in April of 2019 that Bill Slawski, Author at SEO By The Sea and Director of SEO Research at Go Fish Digital, first announced he would be doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the TechSEO subreddit on June 3, 2019. Since then we’ve waited in eager anticipation to learn what we can from one of the most respected voices in the SEO community.
Related: Read our AMA recap with Paul Shapiro
73 comments later, fused with both in-depth questions and answers, the AMA had concluded. Reading through the entire thing would take no less than half an hour so here, for your viewing pleasure, is a recap of the highlights and noteworthy points that we believe are some of the key takeaways from this insightful exchange of information. From search engine optimization patents to science fiction and technical SEO, here’s what you missed from Bill Slawski’s Reddit AMA.
A bit about Bill
Before becoming immersed in the world of SEO, Bill attended college at the University of Delaware, where he not only earned a degree in English but also followed that with a Jurisdoctor Degree from Widener University School of Law. He worked for the highest level trial court in Delaware for 14 years, initially as an Assistant Criminal Deputy Prothonotary for 7 years, and then as a Mini-Micro Computer Network Administrator.
Building his first website in 1996 and promoting it on the web was Bill’s introduction to search engines as they first started appearing. He was a part of several online communities which focused on the early elements of SEO, usability, web design, and marketing, and ultimately, ways in which they could be improved.
At around 2004, Bill started reading and writing patents from search engines such as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. He continues to do so today, writing about many of them on his blog, and on the Go Fish Digital blog, to an avid and eager audience. Given Bill’s unique combination of education, skills, and experience, it’s clear to see why many in the SEO community hold his insight in such high regard.
Search Engine Patents
We know there are hundreds of ranking factors Google uses when it comes to being displayed on the SERPs and Google is typically very selective on the information they choose to share with us. With that in mind, it’s not hard to see why any opportunity to get a rare glimpse into the inner workings of search algorithms could be invaluable information. Thanks to Bill’s analysis of many of these patents and his willingness to share this information with the SEO community via blog outlets, we can now reach a vantage point we otherwise may not have had.
Still, there’s the question of whether or not this information is directly actionable. So when Bill was first asked how much of a role do patents play into his actual live strategies and whether or not there were some hidden gems of benefit to the SEO community that he would be willing to share, this was his response:
“I blog frequently about patents, and if I uncover something interesting such as annotation text adding hypertextual relevance to anchor text, I write that up in the Go Fish Digital Wiki, and share it with my co-workers.”
“I also have been doing an occasional Patent Audit for clients, where I find patents that may be relevant to what they want to do on their site, or that fits something they are doing, and that may provide them with takeaways that potentially could give them a competitive advantage over other sites within their industry.”
“When I learn from patents, I can include what I learn in presentations. I spoke at the Utah Digital Marketing Collective a couple of months ago on Phrase-based indexing. I’ve written a handful of blog posts on the topic, and the first of over 20 patents on the topic was first granted in 2004. It’s worth learning about how frequently co-occurring related meaningful phrases taken from high ranking pages may add value to your page that ranks for the same term. The most recent version of this first patent was a continuation patent that updates the claims from the original. It tells us that the number of related phrases on a page may cause it to rank more highly than other pages optimized for the same term.”
In an age where Google dominates the search game, a few questions were asked about whether he noticed other search engines doing anything interesting or different. Additionally, users wanted to know if he had seen any patents for Bing or DuckDuckGo that had caught his attention. Finally, he was asked how he envisioned the future of search in the next 5-10 years. This is what he had to say:
“Bing is doing some interesting work, after picking up on some stuff that Microsoft Asia started with Probase. They don’t have the amount of traffic that Google does but are worth keeping an eye upon. Their patents are filed under Microsoft. I don’t see much in the way of patents for DuckDuckGo.”
“I expect the Internet of Things to provide us with more devices connected to the Web, with more types of inputs and many requiring single answers. I expect to see more importance placed on featured snippets, and am looking forward to Schema growing and providing us with many more options when it comes to rich results.”
With Bill’s appreciation for science fiction, other Sci-Fi fans were curious to gather his thoughts on the subject. He was asked if there were any current authors who measure up to the classic Sci-Fi authors. The question continued with whether he felt any of them had a good grasp of how machine learning and AI are affecting or can affect, the way humans interact with the world. He had the following to say:
“Some of the Science Fiction writers whom I’ve been enjoying reading recently include Cixin Liu and Iain M. Banks. If you read any of the Culture Books from Banks, the AIs of the Minds in the ships in that society are very interesting. Liu, in the Three Body Problem, uses computational physicists who use deep learning to understand their unique solar system. I think Banks and Liu’s stories fit in well with stories by Asimov and Clarke.”
Continuing on the topic of science fiction, Bill was asked what his 3 all-time favorites were and what about each of them impressed him the most.
“Favorite Science Fiction writers is difficult because there are so many good ones, and a few writers whom aren’t normally considered science fiction writers who are very good ones, but I will try.”
1.) Jorge Luis Borges is best known for fantastical short stories that anticipate things like the World Wide Web many years before we saw them, such as “The Library of Babel” https://libraryofbabel.info/Borges/libraryofbabel.pdf
2.) Italo Calvino – in a way that is similar to Borges, Calvino would sometimes write stories based upon Facts that were often Fantastical. One of my favorites by him is Cosmicomics.
3.) Vernor Vinge – A retired San Diego Math Professor who has written about things like the technical singularity, and cyberspace. A story set not far in the future (2025) by him is Rainbows End, which includes Google’s book scanning project as part of the plot behind it.
“Many others including William Gibson, Jack Womack, Margeret Atwood, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, Alfred Bester.”
Search Engine Optimization
When talking about local SEO, Bill was asked what his best advice was for someone just starting off in regards to ranking both locally in Google Maps and organically in the SERPs.
“Sites rank in Google Maps based upon distance, the relevance of business name and category, and location prominence. Sites rank in organic search results based upon Information retrieval scores (relevance) and PageRank or links.”
“If you build a site that has a strong information architecture, answers questions that your targeted audience might have, describes the goods and services that you provide, uses keywords well, and you gain links to your site from good sources, and citations from business directories and local data aggregators, you may start seeing traffic to your site from both local and organic search.”
On the topic of structured data and whether or not it was likely a primary ranking signal, Bill responded with:
“I believe that structured data is a great way to provide machine-readable data to search engines that can be used in interesting ways, from providing rich results such as rating information in SERPs and events information. We see FAQPage markup and Howto markup capable of enabling site owners to detail aspects of featured snippet type results that we may see in SERPs.”
“Structured Data may be searched through by a search engine to answer queries that are asking factual answers about entities and their attributes (what is the movie where Robert Duval say that he loves the smell of napalm in the morning.) A search engine can answer some queries without using textual information found on web pages but can limit its query to information found in Structured Data.”
“The top ranking signals for a query depends upon the query itself, and what it is asking for. For many queries, it is possible that structured data will play a very important role.”
“We see this with local search, which bases how it ranks results upon things like location prominence, which uses name, address, and phone consistency across a wide range of factual data about local entities.”
When Bill was asked what online publications he used to stay current in regards to digital marketing and what sources he enjoyed for tests, studies, analysis, tools, etc., he listed a few.
“One of my favorite resources that I’ve been turning to recently is the Google Resources Publications documents. Those include publications prepared by people at Google for conferences such as the Web Conference 2019. There’s a detailed paper about Google’s new Datasets search, which is a great place to look for content that can help make a strong content-based campaign.”
“There are also some papers in there about new natural language processing approaches such as BERT. I’ve also created some topical lists on Twitter on a range of topics, which I find useful for learning new things. I have a Semantic Search list and an SEO list which both uncover interesting information.”
Perhaps the most notable takeaway from this AMA was how eager and interested so many Reddit users were to present Bill with their questions and seek out his expertise. A common trend during the AMA was the show of appreciation for Bill’s work as well as many mentioning they were avid followers. I think that speaks wonders to Bill both personally and professionally. It’s clear his ongoing and longstanding contributions to the SEO community have helped shaped the landscape of search and have allowed the rest of us to understand it better.