Our chance to ask Google

Imagine if you could get some of the most relevant Google experts on the same stage, at the same time, and ask them any question you’d like around the topic of web standards… What would you ask?

Funnily enough, I will be moderating a panel at this years Search Summit where we will have our change to put a range of questions to the likes of:

  • Adam Lasnik, Google Web-Spam Team (GooglePlex) Webspam & Search Quality Expert
  • Maile Ohye, Google Webmaster Central (Kirkland Plex) – XML Site Maps Guru
  • Dan Crow, Google Webmaster Central (NY Plex) Head of Crawl Systems & Google’s Web 2.0 expert on search bots
  • Peeyush Ranjan, Google Webmaster Central (Kirkland Plex) Search Quality,CSS Guru

Here are some questions that Scott Gledhill and I’d like to ask:

CSS and hiding

  1. Does Google read CSS files? More importantly, do they check for CSS properties that can be used to hide content such as “display: none”?
  2. Are sites punished by Google for hiding content using CSS?
  3. What about methods of hiding that are used to aid accessibility such as structural labels (descriptive headings that are useful for blind users but not for sighted), image replacement methods (images used to replace html content), drop-down menu navigation and tabbed components that display content in a smaller space more efficiently.
  4. Are particular method of CSS hiding preferred from Google’s perspective?
  5. If Google ever condones *correct* usage of hiding, is there still a possibility that the spiders will accidentally penalise me for hiding text if done in the correct context?

Valid code

  1. Does Google pay any attention to valid code
  2. Are sites given higher ranking if they use valid code.
  3. Will Google ever actively reward (give a higher ranking) for accessibility?

Semantic structure

  1. Are sites with good semantic structure (correct heading levels, paragraphs, lists etc) given better Google ranking than sites with poor semantic structure?
  2. Does Google make decisions based on specific markup – such as <i> vs <em> and <b> vs <strong>?
  3. Does Google look at heading level hierarchy (are heading levels present, are heading levels skipped, too many headings etc) and take this into account?
  4. Do lists such as definition lists make a difference to the way content is indexed and ranked?

Industry Influence

  1. Does Google ever feel a moral obligation to push accessibility and web standards (by improving rankings), seeing they influence the market on such a global scale?

So… what would you like to ask?

Tags: google, , seo

Date: 3 February 2007
Author: Russ Weakley
Category: Accessibility, CSS, General, HTML, SEO, Web, Web standards

Comments so far

  1. Scott G says:

    This is going to be a great panel Russ… I am looking forward to either 1) a lot of squirming in the Google chairs or preferably 2) some decent straight forward answers to questions that are often asked, yet unanswered in the industry.

  2. Ben Buchanan says:

    Hmm. Some questions in no particular order:

    1) Since 301 redirections get you bombed (and longevity is a big factor in pagerank, so new URLs are effectively bombed), is there a way to move a site without losing your pagerank?

    2) Will Google ever produce valid pages for their own sites? Many standardistas have produced proof of concept versions of Google search for example – standards compliant AND lightweight. Why not use them?

    3) Do they think Flash will ever be seriously searchable, in a useful manner? Do they think it will be possible? Would they rank Flash content higher or lower than text content?

    4) Does Google give equal weight to ABBR contents versus spelled-out terms?

    5) Does Google give additional weight to tags/tagged pages?

  3. Barry Smyth says:

    I can see this turning into one of the best sessions at Search Summit, it took a long time to get these guys together & they wont disappoint.

    Dan Crow is the man to cover off a lot of this stuff & Vanessa Fox (GWC Product Manager) recently emailed me back regarding one of the original questions about validation – quoting:

    “As for validation in general, I’m on record as saying that in general, validation doesn’t have any influence on things like indexing and ranking. The only exception would be if we are unable to completely crawl a page because of broken tags, and that prevents us from seeing all of the content (as such, we wouldn’t be able to index the content we can’t get to)”

    Could be the start of an interesting session!

  4. Ben Buchanan says:

    I should have added…

    Will Google be indexing/weighting microformatted content? What is Google’s view of microformats and their potential benefits to search? If they did support microformats would that also suggest they’d need to pay more attention to semantics?

    I’d also question their views on whether validation is a “signal of quality” (refer: http://www.standardzilla.com/2007/02/04/signals-of-quality/#comment-323). In short, if a page validates surely that is an indication that the author/developer has paid close attention to the construction of the site… which would be a signal of quality in my book!

  5. Russ says:

    @Ben: Agree re Microformats and indexing/ranking – be interesting to hear this one answered!

  6. Nice! This will be interesting! :) I’m really looking forward to hearing their responses in the valid code/semantic area.

    I know realistically search engines should be finding the most relevant content, not code … though with everything else aside, would it mean that a page with [h1]BigKeyword[/h1] has an equal ranking as [p style="font-size:1000px"]BigKeyword[/p] ? What content is more meaningful? A heading or a word that’s styled so it’s visually more powerful than a normal heading. Or is all markup within the body ignored?

  7. David J Rust says:

    This sounds interesting… I have friends who work at Google and I’ve always been interested in their humble, “Geek” beginnings and how that influences the quality of their code. I would ask them, however, about their future plans. Given how bad the code is, over at MySpace, and given the “geek” quotient at Google, “Will the company ever attempt to create a ‘MySpace’-like community only with properly-coded XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript?”

  8. “Does Google ever feel a moral obligation to push accessibility and web standards (by improving rankings), seeing they influence the market on such a global scale?”

    This has to be the biggest question of all as it can have the biggest impact. As soon as someone from Google mentions ‘web standards’ and ‘improved rank’, watch your group membership take off. Forget Microsoft, this has to be the single biggest way to clean up the web.

  9. Gavin Jacobi says:

    In the spirit of page ranking: do you have a question ranking?

    It would be good to get the “big ones” answered first — get in quick! It is always a shame when a session of finite duration is hijacked by someone asking a no-brainer when you want to ask “the important stuff”.

    My biased vote goes towards Microformats and the notion that validity = quality (and the follow-on to a better awareness of accessibility).

  10. Chris Blown says:

    Great questions Russ – looking forward to the responses.

  11. John Faulds says:

    Further to the CSS & hiding questions: I was under the impression that disallowing access to your CSS directory via robots.txt was the solution to any concerns with regards Google penalties. Could they confirm that or is hiding your CSS directory itself going to lead to penalties?

  12. Michael Motherwell says:

    > 2) Will Google ever produce valid pages for their own sites?
    > Many standardistas have produced proof of concept versions of
    > Google search for example – standards compliant AND
    > lightweight. Why not use them?
    LOL. I can’t wait to hear them answer that one!

    And yes, I hope there is some squirming as well (I think I might sell popcorn for this session).

  13. Great questions…
    Do you think it will be possible to have a record of what they said for us who would not be able to go? I would be very interested in hearing what they say.

    It is good to see them on the panel and lets hope that they do not dodge the questions.

  14. Barry Smyth says:

    Hi guys, as the organiser I thought I should jump in here & cover off a few points.

    In response the Jermayn’s post, I have not received permission from Google PR to record this session, so you will have to attend if you want to ask questions.

    I think the popcorn ideas great Michael.

    Gavin I think you could chuck in a ranking question without hesitation.

    I have spoken to all the guys who are coming & they realise what they are in for, we have posted a few of the questions to them already & have not had any negative feedback, they will answer the questions.

    Also, remember I am offering a discount to WSG Members, just type WSG2007_SS into the discount code in section B on the booking page & you’ll save $214.