You&A With Matt Cutts


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 inovlved. 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

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 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. :)

Your Comments

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    Lisa, Today’s liveblogging was STELLAR as always
    As for the Matt/Graywolf thing, well phooey. Matt Cutts has NOT truly answered, but once again fallen on the mighty “do whatever you want, but if you want to be found in Google, don’t do what you want, do what we want but not what we do…” One day someone’s going to be pushed too far on this and I smell a future Microsoft AntiTrust suit coming down the road…

  • Michael D

    Thanks Lisa for providing great info throughout the day, it was almost like being there. You rock!

  • Tanner Christensen

    Wow, some really helpful stuff here.

    Big thanks to the entire Outspoken Media team for providing this great info to the rest of us in the SEO and marketing industry, you girls have been a big help.

  • Terry Richards

    Lisa, thanks for liveblogging about the event. The PR sculpting question was helpful however I’m really curious about the effectiveness of the Canonical tag.

    Overall has anyone really seen it help? We implemented it on a rather large site without the results we were expecting and we understand it’s just a hint.

  • Geordie

    Awesome, detailed coverage as usual Lisa! Thanks so much!

  • jlbraaten

    Very great coverage of SMX. There are so many tidbits of great stuff revealed today. Did I hear “Page Rank evaporation” get coined as a term? PR Evap, of course, being the new effect to link juice from nofollow that was formerly boosting the rest of the follow links. Did I get that concept right? What will all the juice sculpters do now if this is true?

  • Rob Woods

    Awesome coverage as usual. I wasn’t feeling great and missed it so I really appreciate the level of detail in the coverage. I knew I could afford to miss is and catch up here. I had questions about whether page rank sculpting was an effective strategy. I guess I have my answer…

  • The Mules

    These early reports suggest nofollow is being put to pasture. Like yours, Danny’s coverage has Matt implying the PR pool is to be depleted from linking out (or in) with nofollow, but that PR would not pass in the process.

    We’re going to eat a whole ditch of skunkweed and think deeply about prevaporation.

    The immediate hoof-jerk reaction would be that any donkey of an SEO would begin a next generation of faux nofollow using other methods sideways mentioned in the same conversation. Or use anything else — but not nofollow. What silly filly would link out in a manner that foxes away the chickens yet delivers nothing to the recipient?

    Oh, yes. Those who “buy” links and are forced to heel… though nobody knows what a paid link is, because it’s all about intentions — but worry not, kick up your heels. It’s your site, do whatever you like! Until you’re penalized for your intent, which can be accurately divined by spiders. Be safe, little foals… buy your links from the one and only, the trusted, the impartial source: King Google.

    TYVM to the extended OM family for covering this shindig — mules don’t fit on planes, and Rae would pitch a fit if we tried.

  • Olivier Amar

    This was actually one of the sessions I was sorry I missed by not attending. Reading your summary made me realize I didn’t miss much… Right?

  • seo wales

    Good post. It’s a little hard to see when you’re quoting a conversation, when you’re interpreting and when you’re reporting an overview.

    The bold text makes it appear you’re interviewing?

    And the following text, is clearly not a quote (from the content) but is it a report of what was said by someone, a group, a distillation of a conversation, your interpretation?

    seo wales: are these bits quotes, or
    seo wales: “only these bits”

    Really not trying to be supercritical (failing?) but thought it worth mentioning to help you keep a clean style in future.


  • Shane

    Brilliant coverage thanks for this.

  • Paul

    I’ve just read this even though my heid is thumping and my eyes are watering – yet still I read it right through, captivating post, well done, as usual, Lisa :)

    Now, where’s me painkillers…

  • Marko Saric

    Thanks for the great report!

    I am wondering what is going to happen with blog comments area now. I have nofollow on both URL and Twitter ID of the commentator, but what will happen now that Google doesn’t discount nofollow as they used to?

    Lets say you have 20 comments on an article and all of them have both Twitter ID and website URL. That is 40 external URLs that Google may be counting now or what?

    Strange decision…

  • rexolio

    My head is spinning with all of this nofollow and paid link stuff. Graywolf’s question, “If you’re trying to mitigate the nofollow, doesn’t that say it’s working the way we want it to?” still seems to be on point to me and a good question. Obviously I wasn’t there and don’t know how Matt explained it away, but just find it interesting.

    Gotta go get some paid links now…

  • seosapien

    Thank you for the great report. I still can’t understand what is going to happen to the “no follow” links now. Is it going to be the comment spammers heaven?

  • Ken at HCG

    Thanks Lisa … great info though perhaps a bit disturbing.
    In this world of rules and chaos it is plain to see that indeed Chaos still Rules!
    I must wonder, Is there joy in making the masses squirm?

  • Taree

    Hey Lisa,

    Is that a Nofollow on your contact link, or are you just happy to evaporate juice?

    Most interesting post i’ve read in a long time Lisa, thanks. This bit was really ehh odd?

    “Google doesn’t care about links.”

    Which kind of hinges on the sole fact Google can read minds, so if the site owner doesn’t care about links then giving monetary reward is ok but if they do care they must be nofollow/robots blocked?

    If anyone finds Google’s form where we can submit our “Link Care Factor”, don’t leave me out in the cold.

  • Señor Muñoz

    Ok, so… If I link with a nofollow, nobody will win, but, if I link with a do-follow somebody is going to win but I am going to be penalized…
    If I need to have a TOC in all of my pages, now on, for Google is one of the most important file, at least, as important as the index… Ok, We will make new tricks, for sure…
    Don’t think the big brother is moving in the right direction…

  • Fiona

    If you’re trying to mitigate the no follow, doesn’t that say it’s working the way we want it to? still seems to be on point to me and a good question. Obviously I wasn’t there and don’t know how Matt explained it away, but just find it interesting.

  • Karl Foxley

    This was a great read. I like the evasiveness of Matt Cutts …

    The politicians of the SEO world. lol



  • Michael Martin

    It was interesting being in the eye of the storm when having lunch with Matt Cutts, Danny Sullivan, & MG Siegler at Google IO a week before SMX Advanced.

    Michael Gray tweeted me to ask Matt & MG to look at the offending TechCrunch post with the sponsor link and when Matt said he was kool with it Michael then went off on the Android Ion phone giveaway being a paid link bid.

    ,Michael Martin

  • Lee

    Wow. We just integrated a bunch of NoFollow in a silo approach to help direct the flow of pagerank. Oops. I guess we’ll rip that back out of our code. Thanks so much for providing this information!

  • Lee

    OK. I had to come back today and reread this post. :)

    So we shouldn’t try to sculpt the flow of pagerank internally on our sites. If you have an internal link, you might as well never use no follow because you can’t push “extra” juice elsewhere.

    For outbound links, does no follow preserve value for your site? My blog went from PR3 to PR2 in the last update. The only thing in particular that changed was that we added more “social bookmarking” links. So the number of outbound links on the home page of our blog jumped considerably (from 4 to 9 with each article). They were follow links.

    Will changing these to no follow preserve that value of the blog? Or should I just dump them off the home page? If so, then now we’re having to alter the visitor’s experience to preserve value.

  • Jacob Stoops

    You’re right. You could almost cut the tension with a knife. Graywolf was not backing down, and it doesn’t look like Matt was folding either.

    Each side has some very interesting points.

  • Tech Zone

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  • bijuterii

    they always tell us something but no facts at all. Like Alan said, we are free to do what we want but only what they want.
    and what’s what they want is you to do what you want. :)
    they won’t tell any secret because they are afraid of “those scammers” :)

  • StarFields

    The nofollow attribute is a basic violation of the idea of the www. It creates a completely distorted representation and a two tier internet – sites such as wikipedia having ten million incoming links, and no outgoing links. A normal website can’t compete with that, no matter how wondrous the content or internal architecture ;-/

    Also, most people don’t even know about nofollow. They don’t know they’re giving their content to sites which don’t even give them a link back. Like this one here.

    Why am I even bothering writing?

    Let’s go add some more wondrous content to my site instead. For all the good it does …

  • Myles Anderson

    “If it disappears completely from Google. That’s what we call a pretty good indicator.”

    It’s Google, after all. Can you imagine how boring SEO would become if Google lays down the rules in black and white? Would we still crave the sleepless nights trying to crack the best SEO/SEM technique out there? The answer is definitely a NO for me.