Google Search Central Unconference 2021: Quick Recap

Mihai Aperghis (@mihaiaperghis), an SEO we reference here from time to time, is also a Google Product Expert and attended the Google Search Central Unconference the other week. He has written this blog post and I am posting it here as a super rare guest post on this site. Why? (1) Mihai rocks and (2) this site is about community and Product Experts are the essence of the Google community. I (Barry) personally was unable to attend due to a conflict. Note: Mihai did not ask for a link or a mention, but I added this so it is clear that he wrote this.

A few weeks ago marked the second Google Search Central Unconference edition, almost a year after the first one took place (though most probably remember the first edition under a slightly different name, the Virtual Webmaster Unconference).

As part of the Product Expert program in the Search Central community, I had the awesome opportunity to propose and coordinate two of the sessions that took place during the event. Here are a few insights from my experience:

Overview

Just as last year, the event aimed to bring together people from all over the world, with various levels of experience and knowledge regarding SEO, Google Search and related products. Whether webmasters, SEOs, developers, bloggers or business owners, participants were able to join relaxed and open discussions on up to two of the 11 available topics, sharing insights, asking questions and providing feedback.

If you’re not familiar with the event or the unconference format in general, the idea is to foster conversation and interaction between the session participants, moving away from the standard speaker-and-presentation-deck model.

In order to do this, here are some of the particularities of the Search Central Unconference event:

  • While there were no official speakers, each Unconference session was coordinated by one or two ‘facilitators’ — either actual Googlers or people from the Product Experts program. They were tasked with making sure everyone is comfortable and heard, as well as ‘guide’ the discussion if/as needed and take notes regarding key points and outcomes.
  • Each facilitator could choose to run their session based on one of several suggested formats, from general group discussions or Q&As to show & tell and feedback sessions. Again, whichever the format, it had to be focused on interactivity (ie. no monologues or long presentations).
  • Probably one of the most important (and frequently asked about) aspect of the event was that no recordings (official or unofficial) were to be made. While this meant that people that couldn’t participate or were curious about other sessions wouldn’t able to view them later, it also provided an opportunity for everyone to share their experience without worrying that details of their conversations would end up on YouTube.

Naturally, the event took place fully online, being scheduled for an EMEA / North America friendly timezone (8am PST / 3pm UTC).

The Sessions

The call for session proposals came about a month prior to the event, towards the end of May. Googlers and Product Experts were able to submit ideas on topics, with the Unconference organizers selecting which topics would ultimately be part of the event.

Prior to the day of the event, each participant cast their preference towards each session, based on their own interest for these topics. Most got to join their favorite sessions, though there was a bit of balancing to avoid overcrowding rooms.

There were two 45-minute session ‘blocks’, each followed by a quick wrap-up and separated by a networking break:

Topics ranged all the way from more general ones, such as Website Quality, to more specific discussions surrounding Log file analysis. Here’s a complete list of the session titles:

  • Publisher policy video content
  • Search Console chit-chat
  • What is a great website quality in 2021?
  • Building High-Class Support for the Search Ecosystem
  • Core Web Vitals – Common Issues and Success Stories
  • Log file analysis
  • Video SEO
  • The Future of Feeds on the Open Web
  • Core Web Vitals and Ecommerce
  • SEO Scripts – Making SEO Easier With Automation
  • Webmaster and Podcaster

I had the pleasure of being one of the two facilitators for the first Core Web Vitals session, as well as for SEO Scripts.

I won’t really go into detail with regards to each session’s content, as there’s an official Google blog post in the works that will include the key take-aways on what was discussed.

The experience

Setting aside the nerves associated with helping to coordinate an official Google event, I have to say that, for me, this has been one of the highlights of the year.

During each session we had around 20-25 participants, big portion of whom provided insights into the challenges, tools, and successes they’ve had with regards to each topic. Martin (Splitt) and Terry (Ednacot), the main two Googlers behind the event’s organization, also made sure that people with different backgrounds and levels of experience were mixed in each session, in order to provide a variety of perspectives to the discussions.

For example, during the Core Web Vitals session which I facilitated together with Dave (Smart — a fellow Product Expert who also wrote about his Unconference experience), we talked a lot about CLS, the difficulty to diagnose what’s causing issues and how to go about optimizing it. Additionally, we also chatted about the how less technical people view these metrics and how would they see existing information and documentation on this topic be improved.

In the SEO Scripts one (which I co-facilitated with Martin himself – imagine the pressure!), our discussion focused on the typical areas where SEOs feel the need to automate tasks, such as large scale keyword analysis. Lots of folks were really helpful in providing with links to the tools they found useful using Google’s Meet chat functionality. This was also a personal favorite, having recently fiddled with Python and NLP for a complex site migration.

As mentioned earlier, each session block was succeeded by a 15-minute meet-up with everyone, where all facilitators got to share a quick summary for their sessions, so that people outside of them got an idea of what conversations took place. These key points will also be part of the upcoming Google blog post, so make sure to keep an eye out for it.

All in all, this was a great experience, and while I also loved last year’s first edition, this one managed to rise above it in terms of planning and coordination. Judging from the session interaction and the final conclusions wrap-up, seems most of the participants have also enjoyed the whole experience. Only thing I really wish for next time is to have even more sessions, thus allowing for more people to be able to join and participate in the event.

Until next time…

Forum discussion at Twitter.

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