You&A With Matt Cutts

June 2, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

You guys still with me? I hope so because it’s time for the You&A keynote with Mr. Matt Cutts and I received some advance warning that this may get explosive.  Plus, Rae brought me chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. w00t!

Yes, yes, it’s time for the YOU&A with Matt. Where I am sure everyone will ask him very polite questions and no one will attempt to give him a hard time. Right. Did I mention that Michael Gray is seated immediately to my right? You know what tastes almost as good as chocolate? Paid cell phone links and Google squirming. Yum!

How can you tell if your site is in the penalty box?

If it disappears completely from Google. That’s what we call a pretty good indicator. [giggles]  They don’t make all their penalty’s public. They make public the ones that can be the most help.  If someone reaches out to them in the forum, they can offer some pretty blatant hints. And certainly, you can get a pretty good idea. You can’t tell every single penalty that you have to alert and educate the innocent people without giving it to the scammers who would use the information to make a better, sneakier Web site.

It seems like you supported PageRank sculpting a year ago and now it seems like you don’t support it anymore. Why is that and will it become a negative indicator?

No, it won’t hurt your site. You can do your links however you want. You can use it to eliminate links to sign in forms and whatnot, but its a better use of your time to fix your site architecture and fix the problem from the core. Suppose you have 10 links and 5 of them are nofollowed. There’s this assumption that that the other 5 links get ALL that PageRank and that may not be as true anymore (your leftover PageRank will now “evaporate”, says Matt.). You can’t shunt your PageRank where you want it to go. It’s not a penalty. It’s not going to get you in trouble. However, it’s not as effective. It’s a better use of your time to go make new content and do all the other things. If you’re using nofollow to change how PageRank flows, it’s like a band-aid. It’s better to build your site how you want PageRank to flow from the beginning.

Danny follow up – Why is it less effective?

He talks about the YouTube case and talks pleasantly around the issue about how YouTube sculpted their pages for users so that “random videos” didn’t shoot up. Initially, if you had 10 links and 5 were nofollowed, the other 5 would get all that PageRank. That’s not the case anymore.  They didn’t it change it because people started sculpting.

Michael Gray: If you’re trying to mitigate the nofollow, doesn’t that say it’s working the way we want it to?

Matt: We’re not trying to mitigate it.  [Matt’s doing the Google shuffle trying to get out of the clenches of Graywolf.]  He ends up explaining his way out rather well. Graywolf seems settled. For now.

How do you do display none and AJAX stuff without being penalized?

Make sure when you write your own code that you don’t do some crazy custom solution.  They write their algorithms to detect the common idioms. Whenever they’re parsing through CSS, they try and make sure they don’t accidentally trigger someone using mouse over code. So they look for the common code.  They want the algorithm to trigger the bad stuff. They don’t think they have that big of an issue with false positives.  If you want to be safe, don’t write your own code completely from scratch. Don’t STEAL someone else’s code, but there are “libraries” out there you can use to find the common ways to handle situations.

Can you get hurt by 301’ing a penalized Web site to a new Web site?

Typically not because it could be a case where someone’s trying to Googlebowl you. However, if it’s a site that’s penalized and that Google doesn’t trust, then you may not be getting that much juice transferring over anyway. Sometimes its better to just start truly fresh.

Would you penalize a network of co-branded job sites for duplicate listings or just take the ones with the most PageRank and rank that one over the others?

Within one site, you don’t have to worry too much about a penalty, they’ll just try to pick the best page. If we’re talking multiple sites and you have the same content on 200 sites, that may trigger a bad user experience and may be treated differently. When a user searches and gets a cookie cutter site, they’re not going to be happy with that and they’ll complain about it to us.

With the release of Google IO you said you’re now reading Javascript and acting upon it.  You used to recommend people use Javascript as a way of dealing with paid links. Now what do people do?

Nofollow or redirect it through something blocked by robots.txt. Those will stay very, very safe.

How quickly do people have to fix this? Because Danny didn’t even know it was an issue.

If you look at any of the common URL redirectors, they’re already covered. There’s time if you want to be thinking about this. We want people to have good messaging.  He’ll do a blog post about it.

So…you guys don’t like paid links. Links were like votes. That’s pretty clear cut.  But then we started getting all these weird things like Scoble linking to his brother with targeted anchor text and helping him rank just because he has a popular blog. Then there was the TechCrunch web cam thing where they were looking for sponsor and coincidentally had a post about the sponsor a few days later, causing Michael Gray to go nuts about paid links.  And then you gave a bunch of developers free Android phones and he went crazy again. What’s the deal?

When it came to the TechCrunch web cam case, Matt was actually sitting with the author of the article and asked him if the article was written because the company had sponsored the TechCrunch webcam. The author told Matt that the editorial team wasn’t even aware of the sponsorship and they updated the post to include a nofollow link.

The FTC asks that if there’s a connection between the product and the endorser where it might materially affect what you would say, then you need to disclose it. The reason people got the free Android phones was because they had paid 2-3k to attend the event and they were the perfect demographic to be developing Android applications. Google wanted the applications developed, not links. Google doesn’t think about getting links.

If you’re running a contest, don’t make it your goal to get links. Never require that people link to you in order to possibly win the contest.  Social media is about buzz, not getting links.  The links are the after effect.

Michael Gray: I have a Web site (Viral Conversations) that gives free gifts to bloggers to get them to write about it.  We’ve gone through a huge level to make sure that we’re meeting Google’s standards.  We’re doing the exact same thing that Google did with the Android phones, but we had to go through an extra level (putting nofollow on all the links). It seems like you’re stereotyping projects just because an SEO is involved. Why do I have to put a nofollow when I give free gifts, but you don’t?

Matt: Google doesn’t care about links. They don’t want to rank for cell phones [Really? They have no deserve to grow Android market share?].  The closer you get to money for links, the higher risk we consider it.

Michael: Money was involved. Your phones went for 200-800 dollar on eBay.  Android got links because you gave away a free phone.

Matt: We may have.

Danny: Lots of people want their products to be reviewed and they’re not doing it for links. They just want people to write about it.

Matt: If you’ve got a bunch of reporters, you’re hoping you’ll get coverage. You’re probably not hoping for keyword rich anchor text. It’s about people who do it deliberately for links. [That sounds like a stereotype to me, no?] That’s a higher risk endeavor. Just to be absolutely clear, you can do whatever you want on your site. It’s your choice.  But they use a litmus test at Google to choose what they display in their index. If you want to show up in their index, that’s what they keep in mind.

[ooo, Google intimidation!}

What is up with Dullest.com?

He wanted to try out a new Web host because every time he showed up on Digg, they’d shut down his blog completely. He 302’d his site to Dullest and tried to get something dugg to see if it could withstand the load. His Web host stayed up so he moved the mattcutts.com site over to the new Web host. He was just putting his foot in the water to see what would happen.

Uh huh.

And that’s it for Day 1. Hope you enjoyed the coverage. We’ll be back tomorrow. I’m off to grab a beer. :)

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