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December 6, 2007

Keynote Coffee Chat with Matt Cutts

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Coffee? Did someone say coffee? Why is the Starbucks closed downstairs? I bet Bruce paid them to close it. Or maybe it was Susan. Yeah, it was probably Susan.

I love that the PubCon people are trying to wake us up by blasting "Shiny Happy People" and the theme song to Ferris Bueller. Fine, it’s maybe working. [taps foot] Hee, Matt Cutts is on stage all out dancing to Smashmouth. People have lost their minds in Vegas.

Getting back on topic, we’re seated at yet another Matt Cutts on the hot seat keynote. Poor Matt. How many times can you put one man on the hot seat? Does he even have any secrets left? I guess we’ll find out.

Brett gets things started by offering up some housekeeping stuff. Yey for sponsors. Yey for exhibitors. Yey, yey, yey.

Okay, onto Matt.

Matt says he’s glad to be here and that he’ll be here all day and all day tomorrow. Matt loves how friendly and open PubCon is. True that.

This all question and answer, so let’s do it! [I’m going to try and lump questions together so it’s easier for readers to follow. Hope that helps – Lisa]

Matt and Google-specific Questions

How did you get to Google? What’s a typical day for you look like?

He was in grad school studying computer graphics and needed to take some outside classes. He ended up taking two Information and Library Science classes and they were about search engines. This was 1999 and the class was about Northern Light. He sent the Northern Lights people an email and asked how much they paid. They said they don’t pay unless they’re in active negotiations with someone. They called Matt back a few days later and asked if he’d like be in active negotiations. He said yes.

Matt says that you never know what the day is going to be like when you walk in. You have a plan. You come in with priorities. But then you get in and PC World or John Dvorak has written about malware on .cn domains and you have to investigate it and figure out what’s going on. It’s exciting because you never know what’s going to happen and its fun. It’s the sort of thing where you can sit around a pool table and say, how do I fix this problem? What’s going to be the next big thing in search?

What’s your employee number? There’s a rumor that it’s 69.

Matt says that’s not true. It’s in the first hundred.

Linking/Paid Links Questions

A million years ago we learned that links are important but you can’t link to a "bad neighborhood". How does someone identify what that is?

In general, what he likes to say is use your gut. People have pretty good intuition. This is a very smart group of webmasters and SEOs. If someone writes you out of the blue and asks for a link exchange, you have to realize that that’s kind of strange. Especially if they can’t even spell your name.

Trading links is a natural thing around the Web. Natural reciprocal links do happen but if 50 percent of your links are coming from link exchanges it begins to looks like you’re trying to build and artificial reputation and bump up the amount of links you don’t have. For times when you don’t know if you can trust a link, use a nofollow. If you think a site is a great site, link right to it. If you’re worried, just use a nofollow.

Speaking of links, there’s been a lot of talk about paid links. What’s the deal?

A few years ago there was another search engine called Overture where you would go to that engine and typed in a term and the SERP was sorted by money, not relevance. If you typed in Harvard, you’d get test prep companies, not Harvard University. It showed him that you don’t want a search engine that’s sorted by pocketbook. Recently they did a blog post where there gave a timeline of what they’ve been saying for years about paid links. Then, he put up some screen shots on his personal blog. People don’t realize that if you’re just trying to buy a review, the people taking that money aren’t the most interested in relevance. The danger of paid links is that it biases the search results and gives users something they don’t want. They’ve tried to be pretty clear about their policy. He talks about the article Andy Greenberg did about paid links and how all the search engines agreed it was something they were working on and trying to eliminate. This is not a Google-only issue. All the search engines have agreed.

Going back to paid links, where’s the link between linking to manipulate the algorithm and just selling advertising?

A lot of people make the argument that Google sells paid links, but the fact is those links don’t pass PageRank. He takes the feedback, though.

What’s advertising and what’s paid links? If you’re getting paid for the link and it passes PageRank (manipulates search engines) then that’s bad. There are paid links and then there are paid links that affect search engines. He wants to have a clean index and accurate search results. He has no problem advocating things that would cost Google money, like pushing MFA sites off the Web.

International Issues

Google recently purchased a domain in China G.cn. Can you elaborate?

If you’re in China and you speak Chinese, even remembering the word Google is a little hard. They wanted to make it really easy for Chinese users to remember. They have a Google.cn and G.cn and a Google.com and they all work. If you go to Google.com, you get the main search results. He wishes they could go to G.com.

Back to the China affair and the backlinks. Looking at competitors, we’ve seen that they often buy a lot of links that come from specific regions of the world. So essentially, the very good link popularity they have is because they have backlinks from high PR pages located in Russia and China. Have you thought about investigating this?

It’s a good question. (He’s looking around trying to find the person he’s talked to about this.)

If you look at the .cn domains, a lot of the spam is not in Chinese, it’s in English. And the backlinks are all from Japan. That starts to look a little suspicious. Sometimes you see spammers and they have backlinks from every TLD. At the same time, sometimes you do get cross TLD backlinks. Google will try and continue to do a better job. He agrees that looking at that kind of signal is important. There’s always more Google could do.

Advertising Questions

Google makes a lot of money on the content networks, but more than half of park domains are typo squatted names. What are Google’s feelings about trying to block these people or shutting them down?

Matt puts in his disclaimer that he’s not an expert in this area and this is his personal opinion.

It’s weird because even the simple approaches can be difficult. Suppose you want to say I’m going to stop all typo squatting and eliminate all domains that are one letter away. But then you’d have a problem with BBC and ABC.

Back in the day, domain related advertising could get really skuzzy, it’s not like that today. In a lot of ways, Google legitimized domain related advertising. He’s really heartened to see that SER has written a few articles about how you can email Google and ask your ad representative not to put you on any domain related advertising. They’ve always talked about features that Google is trialing where you don’t have to show up for domain related advertising. In his ideal world it would be easy to opt-out of things like that and he says Google is moving in that direction. They listen to feedback.

Technical & General Search Engine Optimization Questions

If I’m on a VPS, I want to know if I have a neighbor doing some shady stuff. Can that poison the entire subnet?

Matt says not to worry about that. The spammers are smart. If you are domain one and there are 24,000 porn domains and there’s nobody else nearby, that’s odd. In general, it can’t hurt your reputation. The only time they look at IP subnets is if people are hitting them with a lot of queries.

In terms of 301 redirects, if I have a site and I redirect a certain amount of files, is there a rule about when I can redirect those again to maintain the juice?

Matt says he’s never been asked that before. To the best of his knowledge, there’s no limit. You can do a 301 and change it 2 weeks later and you’ll be totally fine. He doesn’t recommend doing a chain of redirects that at some point the bot gets tired and has to lay down. If you have five 301s chained in a row, that’s a little high and things may get lost in the cue. At that point, update the original 301 and make it point to the final location.

When you’re changing servers, is there any issue in regards to how long you should keep the old server up?

Lower your DNS time to live to five minutes. What that means is whenever somebody does a search they’ll have to recheck the IP address every five minutes. Bring up the site on the new IP address, switch the DNS to the new IP, keep both the old and the new live and as soon as you see Googlebot fetching to the new IP address, you’re completely fine in Google. Google tries to be smart about how it crawls and how many fetches it needs.

Regarding scraping: We’re seeing a massive increase of our blog content being copied and being put on AdSense Web sites. Is there a better way to report that to Google?

The answer is we listen to feedback. The general way to do it is to do a general spam report. Tamar Weinberg has done a good walkthrough telling you how to report spam. When you see a spammer with AdSense, click on Ads by Google. At the bottom of the page you’ll give a give feedback to Google link. It brings up a form that allows you to report different types of bad content. Click on the one that says this is a bad publisher.

What’s your take on directories? Is it worthwhile to pay to get in?

Matt has been going back and forth on this over at the Google Webmaster blog with a guy named Jeffrey.

As an SEO, you need to access the quality of a directory. There are absolutely interesting directories out there. You have to find out what the value is. Is there spam in it? Your SEO spidey sense has to help you find the good neighborhoods. Look at the directory, See how long its been around. Look at the sites in it. That will tell you if it’s worthwhile or not.

Don’t people just to submit to directories because they know Google values the links for certain ones?

Matt says no.

Let’s say I have multiple domains and I’m going to repent my ways. What’s the best way to tell you that? What if I want to buy some of those other domains with misspellings and not look like a spammer/

Do a 301 to your one brand site. If you’re only trying to buy a domain because these domains have some preexisting links, then Google doesn’t necessarily want you to get that credit for free. People should earn links.

Are there times where a 302 is interpreted as a 301?

They try to pick the prettiest domain they can. Do you want to go to RedSox.com or mlb.com/teams/redsox?

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One response to “Keynote Coffee Chat with Matt Cutts”

  1. Matt Cutts writes:

    Hey, I was catching up on coverage of PubCon this weekend and read your write-up. Good stuff! You did a really solid job of compressing all that info down into a much shorter article.

    If you care, I noticed a few small things from the frantic blogging documention spree. Two small ones:
    access should be assess
    cue should be queue

    One bigger one is that I wrote to Google about a job, not Northern Light. I mentioned Northern Light, but it was more to say “Does anyone remember them?” I never asked Northern Light for a job–just Google. :)

    Again, good write-up!



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