The Search Marketing Expo East recently took place, and marketers everywhere are talking about the insights that were shared at the important annual event. In particular, people are always interested in what top Google executives reveal about changes for the search giant or best practices as they see them. This year, Gary Illyes conducted an “Ask Me Anything” session with Danny Sullivan that covered everything from Panda and Penguin updates, mobile indexing and authorship.

Here is what we learned from the Google RankBrain FAQ and more from SMX East this year:


RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that Google is now using to sort its search results. The system doesn’t replace the Google algorithm. Instead, it monitors Google search results to help the search giant understand if it needs to make any changes to its algorithm.

The way RankBrain sees your site has considered a ranking signal, similar to how page authority used to be seen. However, Illyes cautioned that you cannot do anything with your SEO to be seen more favorably by RankBrain. Illyes said that there are no “scores” for the system, and you can’t do anything to monitor your progress or to improve it.

That can be both good and bad news for marketers. It’s good news for those who don’t want to add another layer to their SEO strategy, but it’s bad news for those who wish they could do more to influence their ranking.

Panda and Penguin

Panda and Penguin were two of the biggest updates to Google’s algorithm, and we haven’t seen the last of them. Panda is continuously updating, and Penguin will have another update, though Illyes would not give a timeline for when. He did say that Google is currently working on the next Penguin update, but he didn’t want to give any firm dates since he has done so in the past and been wrong.

Panda also will continue to update periodically, though the timeline is very slow. Each update takes months to complete, and then the search engine has to crawl sites, assign a score and update the rankings. The whole process takes quite awhile to complete.

What marketers should take away from this is that they should be regularly be reading about best practices and focusing on providing value to their readers. Whatever changes are made with the algorithms, if sites are focusing on value for readers, they should only have to make minor tweaks to stay in Google’s good graces.

Mobile Index

Mobile has grown in importance for search, but Google is working on an index specifically for mobile sites. Illyes said that Google is still working on this index but did not offer any other details. From past information shared, we know that the mobile-only index will aim to separate the ranking signals used for desktop and mobile versions of a site. That way, sites can get appropriate exposure with mobile users based on the specific changes they’ve implemented. Having the mobile-only index will also help mobile users to get results with the sites best optimized for their needs.


HTTPS is not a big factor for Bing, but it is huge for Google. In fact, Illyes said that 34 percent of Google’s index now includes HTTPS. Therefore, he recommended that all websites migrate to HTTPS now instead of waiting. To us, that sounds like HTTPS will be a big factor with ranking. If your site isn’t already on HTTPS, you should switch it over now.

Google Search Console

Three years ago, Google promised more data for its search console. Illyes said that the team may soon be ready to deliver on that promise, but did not offer any timelines. In particular, the console should soon offer a longer history of search data for web owners. That should improve their analytics so that they can make more informed decisions about their marketing efforts going forward.

Looking toward the Future

Illyes offered a few tidbits about what marketers should expect for the future of search. In particular, he said that Google’s AMP — accelerated mobile pages — will be big. If you haven’t already started publishing on the platform, you should start doing so now to make sure that you aren’t behind.

Illyes also said that bots and assistants are being developed, and more people should be thinking about how they will impact their site. Google Assistant is one development that has been hyped, but many more are surely in our future.

These sessions from Google executives are invaluable to search marketers as they provide important insights about what is to come in the future and what will be important for search rankings. It is important that you take a look at your marketing strategy and see what changes you can make based on the most recent insights from the SMX East session.