Yesterday Search Star packed their lunchboxes & took a train to London to take part in Google's Webmaster & SEO Seminar in London. We had been wondering why Google would like to speak to webmasters and SEOs - so far we would been invited into all kinds of events and training sessions concerning Google's money-making machine: Adwords. But SEO - what's in it for Google?

Meet the speakers

The speakers were no less than Google’s Director of Search, Jack Menzel, accompanied by the Product Manager for Webmaster Tools Anthony Chavez and Webmaster Trends Analyst Pierre Far. Surely, Google’s top experts behind search strategy joined us from New York to tell us more than “what’s new in search”.Jack Menzel started off by hypothesizing (or fantasizing?) about how clever and effective search will become if web developers apply Google’s recommended standards. Put all the information in text rather than image, be careful with Javascript (although Google are getting better and better at interpreting it), make sure that what the user is searching for is there. How about backlinks? – asked someone. Never mind that, it’s all about the user. Back to basics, guys!

Artist’s signature: rel=”author”

Google’s head of search also highlighted the importance of not just quality content, but also the source behind it. In other words, authorship in search, or the rel=”author” attribute of theelement. (For those unfamiliar with the concept, the authorship markup allows Google to display author’s name and thumbnail picture in the rich snippet with the relevant SERP listings.) Does that affect your organic ranking? – asked the webmasters. Never mind that, they heard, it’s all about user experience. But the hint was that it does. Especially that the authorship markup can only be verified (& thus activated) through a personal Google Plus profile. A small incentive (or a promised thereof) for those who evangelise Google’s social effort?

The rel=”author” markup is currently only available for single person web authors rather than teams or organisations.

Let’s get semantic!

Website metadata was a hot topic: Events, Reviews, Recipes – and more is on the way. Google, Yahoo and Bing may kindly choose to display your metadata in a rich snippet. (- Do these improve rankings? - Guys, it’s all about user experience!) Some of the supported metadata categories even allow microdata, such as genre and length of a film. For those interested, the supported categories are available on schema.org.

More markup

Another interesting element was the rel=”alternate” attribute, which allows Google to display the correct language version of a multi-language website in a given region. What is more, that can be extended to country versions, so that google.at displays the German language Austrian version of a German website.Pierre Far warned also not to go crazy on canonisation. The ultimate test to decide whether a page offers duplicate content should be: does the page alone offer anything unique to the user, rather than: is some of the copy present on another page.

A phantom menace

Google Over-Optimisation Algorithm is at large. Some of the participants in the seminar claimed they have already (and unjustly) suffered the consequences. Do you buy links? Stuff your pages with keywords? Use the same anchor text in inbound over and over again? Google is now working to level the playing field for those who simply produce great content rather than extensively channel their efforts into (over-)optimising their websites. Using the data collected over years, Google can define a “standard” lifecycle of a website and the structure of backlinks. User metrics such as CTR are also taken into account.During the whole seminar, the presenters did not give a direct answer to any SEO question. Rather than that, they kept coming back to content quality, user experience and the basics of correct web development. Is that the beginning of the end of SEO? It is not. Google encourages to optimise websites with the user in mind, and provides excellent tools to achieve that.Rather than the end of SEO, it is more likely to be the end of web spamming.