State of Search for 2019 According to Google’s Gary Illyes

State of Search

It’s not every day that Gary Illyes comes to your backyard.

For those of you who don’t know who Gary Illyes is, you can scour through pages of Twitter debates, blog articles and speaker event announcements to see that he has been an important resource to SEO’s everywhere for years.

In fact, Barry Schwartz gives updates on Search Engine Watch every once in a while that feature Gary:


Just last week, he gave a “ State of Search “ presentation through the South Florida Interactive Marketing Association, where he gave a high-level overview of what the SEO landscape will look like in 2019. If you want to validate your current strategies, or are looking for some info, read on ahead:

Good URL’s are Critical

This may seem like a no-brainer, but bad URL structure has actually been trending UP in recent years at Google. Proper URL structures not only inform search engines what your page is about, but it helps click-throughs indirectly by informing the user what value they’ll get from your page. Specifically, Gary called out not to use the paralx (#) URLs (unless they are meant for “scrolling”) instead of creating unique URLs.

Here’s a good example of a URL:

Here’s a bad example:


Yes, canonicalize. Here’s a definition from Moz:

“A canonical tag (aka “rel canonical”) is a way of telling search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page. Using the canonical tag prevents problems caused by identical or “duplicate” content appearing on multiple URLs. Practically speaking, the canonical tag tells search engines which version of a URL you want to appear in search results.”

This is not only useful for avoiding duplicate content, but it’s just plain old useful. It effectively organizes your site pages and allows you to present Google with a neatly thought out binder with dividers-galore, versus a bulky, disorganized mess of un-related papers (or site pages) that are crammed into a binder titled “My Website”.

HTTPS is a Must

This one has been well-known in the SEO community for a while, but it’s worth repeating. Switching your site to HTTPS is not only on the top of any good SEO practice handbook – it’s also good for the user.

HTTPS increases security by encrypting any data passed between a web server and your browser. Without the encryption, you’re more vulnerable to interception of a third-party system, which can then view your data. This is why Google has not only recommended webmasters switch their sites to HTTPS, but has made it a ranking signal.

Make Internal Linking a Habit

It is very difficult for a page to rank on Google without internal links. Internal links give Google an idea about your website hierarchy, and also allows you to place more value to pages that you want to boost in rankings by linking them within your site in strategic places.

Meta Descriptions Matter (but not so much the characters)

While meta descriptions are not a direct ranking signal, they INDIRECTLY help page ranks by increasing click-throughs to your page from SERPs. The question all SEO’s ask is not whether to utilize meta descriptions – it’s how long they should be.

According to Gary, it doesn’t matter.

(I know, shocking) Google will take parts of your meta description it likes, or it may skip it altogether and grab a snippet from your actual page for the description. Regardless, creating an optimized meta description that is enticing, and relevant will increase the likelihood that your meta description will be used by Google.

Despite Gary’s statement, Moz has a study that shows that the cut off for most meta descriptions across Google cut off between the 145-165 range.

Always Use Page Titles

We already know this is a critical piece of Meta Data, but how often do we ignore this? Many large sites have automated page titles that can be lackluster. While it may not be possible to give every single page a keyword-targeted, strategized, stellar page title, it’s worth it to choose your top pages and carefully plan out their titles.

A good page title will be informative to the user, will include your target keyword, and ALWAYS be relevant to the page itself.

Use Alt Text Within Reason

Gary’s main point in this section of the talk was to always use alt text – within reason. If you’re using it as an opportunity to stuff keywords into the page, then you’re using it out of reason. The purpose of alt text is to describe the contents of an image, so if Google sees a lot of keyword stuffing across your alt text it may raise some red flags.

Use Ads Reasonably

Nobody likes interstitial content. Marketers may like it, but users can live without it. If your pop-up ads are blocking the main content of the page (especially on mobile), Google is going to flag your page.

The reasoning is that it gives a bad user experience. Pro tip: don’t keep your users away from the content they want.

Page Speed, Page Speed, Page Speed!

If you haven’t been optimizing your site speed – you’re probably behind the competition.

This is one of the top 3 ranking factors announced by Google. It’s in your best interest to use tools like Page Speed Insights, or the one Gary recommends, Lighthouse, to increase your site speed.

One of the methods he mentioned was “Lazy Loading”. Here’s a description of lazy loading by Stackpath:

“Instead of bulk loading all of the content when the page is accessed, content can be loaded when the user accesses a part of the page that requires it. With lazy loading, pages are created with placeholder content which is only replaced with actual content when the user needs it.”

Structured Data

Gary spent a LOT of time speaking to this. One of the most overlooked aspects of SEO. Use structured where it makes sense.

To be honest, many of these things are already well-known within the SEO community. But it’s nice to hear it validated by the likes of Gary Illyes. The State of Search in 2018 – and going into 2019 -is all about the user, put out great content, and you’ll get returns.

If you want to read about recent Google updates, check out our SEO Trends 2018 post.

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