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June 3, 2008

SMX Advanced Keynote: You&A With Matt Cutts

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Danny and Matt have a cute repartee. I guess Danny lent Matt a pair of Vans. Nice. By way of introduction, Danny explains that Matt leads the Web spam team at Google. They’re matching in red cotton shirts and jeans, plus their Vans. Hey, that’s cute.

Danny starts off the Q&A asking about the link bait/fake news story about a 13-year-old using his dad’s credit card for hookers. The story showed up in major news outlets. Danny wants to know what does Matt thinks about this? Matt’s not the truth police, now, right?

Matt says that the big difference between this situation and a joke is that it was presented as truth and readers had an expectation of news. As far as Google policing the Web, he says that was not the case. This situation landed on Google’s lap and was forced to address it. People are happy when they’re prevented from getting malware, people are happy when they’ve been protected from spam. Matt thinks this issue was along the same line, although not a typical situation. Don’t look for Google to be policing the Web in the future.

Danny asks Matt about the link building debate and what Google’s current stance is.

Matt replies by asking the audience who here is an in-house SEO or looking for long term gains. Ninety percent of the audience raises their hand. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that you don’t want to burn your sites to the ground. You want to do what’s good in the long term and what’s good for your site. Your trust and your credibility within the industry is a limited commodity, so it’s probably better for the industry to recognize if something’s been taken too far.

Danny says that earlier they were talking about a funny story about PageRank.

There was a person that was scraping Google PageRank. When Google saw it they messed with him by tweaking the PageRank so that all his scraped info was useless. This just shows you not to obsess about any one element.

Danny wants to bring up Matt’s blog to show a post from an hour ago.

The key parts of the post are a brief statement about Google’s take on nofollow. Also, a small addition to Webmaster Guidelines is worth noting. “Make Web sites primarily for users, not search engines.” It’s been changed because people were saying, well, why submit an XML Sitemap when you say not to do anything for search engines.

What do you think of widgets as a link building tool?

Is the widget relevant to the sponsor? Is the anchor text stuffed? These are things to keep in mind.

Google’s made conflicting statements about whether or not to have forms on sites.

There are limited situations where Google can crawl into a form. The rule of thumb is would a user be annoyed when they come to the page. There are two parts to the Google guidelines: technical and quality. “Don’t have search results in search results” (like Mahalo) is a quality guideline.

Cloaking?

It’s not a good idea. We’ve punished very large sites for it. In almost all the cases where you might use cloaking there’s usually a bigger architecture issue to solve instead.

We’ve had a number of penalties. The minus 6, minus 650. What’s going on?

If you think you have an algorithmic penalty look at what might need to be changed. But sometimes people are looking too hard for a penalty, so of course they think they’ve found one. There are degrees of penalties. Over the years Google has seen a lot of spam and has a nuanced view of spam, and a nuanced system for penalizing as well.

What are the guidelines for re-inclusion?

For manual penalties, there is a timeline. We try not to be overly harsh because there has to be room for mistakes. If it’s an algorithmic penalty, then you’ve got to adjust the site to address those issues. We also look at reconsideration requests. A lot of times people complain of being hacked, and if they fix it and file reconsideration, they are back in the index within days.

Wall Street Journal has different headlines on Google News than their own site. Isn’t that deceptive?

Matt says he’s not familiar with that particular issue, but he wants to mention First Click Free. With that program users can see the news story they click on without having to register or pay and cross the wall. That’s fair as far as Google sees it because that page is presented as the same for both users and engines.

Can you explain your policy on paid links?

We’ve been studying the different ways people are buying links. Every action leaves a footprint. Google is willing to take both manual and algorithmic action to improve results. Paid links is definitely an advanced technique and high risk.

Can I knock someone out by buying links and pointing them to their site?

We try very hard to make it impossible to hurt others’ sites. If you make a great site that’s compelling and has good ideas, you’ll attract a lot of good links naturally. I’m not sure we want to be in an industry where people try to make them selves look better by making people look worse.

The next question is about PR sculpting – Danny calls out BCI and says siloing. Sites are doing this now. YouTube is doing a bit of it. Is this something people need to do?

If your architecture is right, then it’s not something you should really worry about. He says Michael Gray also made a good point that there are more important irons in the fire to worry about. Rather than playing around with the PR flow on your site, it’s better to plan it out from the beginning. If you’re really advanced and want to play with PR, go ahead and do it. There’s no penalty for nofollow.

[I’m going to jump in and note that siloing encompasses a lot more than just PR sculpting. It’s an architecture/theming issue. –Susan]

What’s it like being the moral compass for SEO?

He says he doesn’t feel like he’s a moral compass. The vast majority of the time people know what Google’s answer is because it’s the common sense, right thing to do. People know there are a lot of great ways to get links. People don’t really need him, he says. They already know how to do SEO really well.

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One response to “SMX Advanced Keynote: You&A With Matt Cutts”

  1. Mark Knowles writes:

    Virginia,

    Nice article. The next best thing to being there.

    Mark



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