Why the SEO Community Could Benefit From Matt Cutts’ Return
I’ll admit it – I miss Matt Cutts.
Although I don’t always agree with the way Cutts handles things and have often been frustrated by the ambiguity of his statements, I must say I wish he would come back to work for Google.
According to the post he published on his blog before he went on leave, Cutts is set to return to possibly return to work next month. In typical Cutts fashion he was not very definitive on his return date.
Regardless of when he comes back, I believe the SEO community could benefit from Cutts’ return. While some within the SEO industry might feel like Matt Cutts is their enemy (and maybe they have their reasons) I feel there is some value in what Matt does and the purpose he serves. Looking at the comments from the previously mentioned blog post, it appears I am not alone as a number of high profile SEOs wished Matt luck and thanked him for what he does.
Again, I don’t agree with everything Cutts says or does, but I would like to explain why I think the SEO community as a whole could benefit from his return to Google.
The Confusion Surrounding SEO and Link Building
As an employee of a link building firm, writing on a link building blog, I want to first address how Cutts could help clear up some of the confusion surrounding links.
To be fair, Google and Cutts himself are likely responsible for causing some of this confusion. The Google Webmaster Guidelines regarding links are vague and Cutts tends to throw a lot of caveats into the public statements he makes. Cutts has a tendency to use a broad stroke approach when telling webmasters to avoid certain tactics that has left many people confused about what is or isn’t safe.
However, there have been multiple instances where Cutts has been very clear regarding links and even link building.
In a 2013 interview with Eric Enge Cutts was asked point blank if Google thinks all link building is bad, to which he plainly stated:
“Q: Of course, people are using the term illegal in an imprecise way. So don’t be literal as an engineer with me now. They’re thinking that Google says all link building is bad.
A: No, not all link building is bad. The philosophy that we’ve always had is if you make something that’s compelling then it would be much easier to get people to write about it and to link to it. And so a lot of people approach it from a direction that’s backwards. They try to get links first and then want to be grandfathered in or think they will be a successful website as a result.”
Now this interview is a bit older, and the SEO and link building industry is always changing. But recently at SMX Advanced, Cutts was asked again about link building specifically:
“Q: What is white-hat link building and should I trust companies who advertise that as a service?
A: It’s certainly possible to do white-hat link building, usually it’s called being excellent. Take Search Engine Land…you didn’t cheat, you didn’t take shortcuts. You went right up the middle and you earned it, with sweat. That’s the best way to do white-hat link building in my experience, sweat plus creativity helps a lot.”
It’s fair to say these are two relatively straight-forward statements that not all link building is against Google’s guidelines, straight from the horse’s mouth.
However, a week ago when my company’s CEO published an article related to link building on Search Engine Land, it garnered some interesting comments that don’t exactly line up with what Cutts has said in the past. For example,
“I think if you offer a link building service you are already in breech of Google's guidelines, convincing yourself that the service you offer is white may give the customer comfort, but in Google's eyes they just haven't yet found a way of catching you.”
“There are NO white hat link building strategies!”
“Link building is rankings manipulation. Link building is black hat, not grey and definitely not white, it's black.”
These comments demonstrate the amount of confusion and misinformation within our industry, and this is precisely why I believe it could helpful to have Matt Cutts back. (Note: These comments also sparked a thoughtful discussion over on Inbound.org)
Earlier this year, he came out and publicly stated that it’s “certainly possible to do white-hat link building”, and yet we still see comments like this that indicate some people believe the exact opposite.
Although Cutts’ statements can often be vague and difficult to understand, in this instance he actually came across quite clearly, distinctly saying building links is NOT against Google’s guidelines.
Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation and confusion within SEO concerning links. Even when Matt Cutts explicitly states it is possible to do white-hat link building there are still people who are convinced otherwise.
Could you imagine how bad it would be if Cutts was never around to combat misinformation in the first place? This is a frightening prospect we could face if he doesn’t return to Google.
When it comes to SEO and links any information from Google is better than nothing.
Some Information is Better Than No Information
While the statements Cutts makes can often be opaque and require you to read between the lines, they can provide helpful insight and that’s better than nothing.
A lot of the value Cutts provides to the SEO community comes from his activity on social media and around the web in general. Cutts does a decent job of correcting inaccuracies of false statements wherever he finds them, not limiting himself in terms of where he’ll respond. Again, these engagements are often filled with their fair share of caveats and innocuous answers, but they also usually provide some insight into how Google views a certain issue.
Also, Cutts attends SEO conferences somewhat regularly. When he attends these conferences he typically says some meaningful and helpful things.
While fellow Googler John Mueller does answer some questions during his Google Webmaster hangouts, there hasn’t been anything to specifically replace the role Cutts fulfilled.
With Cutts gone it has created a bit of a knowledge gap – one that Matt can hopefully fill upon his return, albeit with his typical nebulousness.
One Point of Reference at Google is Simpler
When we as a community have to rely on multiple sources at Google it complicates things. A prime example of why it would be nice to have Mr. Cutts around right now is the recent rollout of the Penguin refresh.
First, there was a bit of confusion during the initial rollout. The aforementioned Mueller preemptively told webmasters that the rollout was finished, and Pierre Far (another Google employee) had to correct that and explain the refresh would be rolling out for a few weeks.
This confusion highlights the issues associated with having multiple sources from Google, rather than having one point of contact with Cutts.
When we can look to a single contact for questions and concerns it makes things much simpler, not to mention Cutts already has experience doing the job.
Cutts Knows the Job
Another reason it would be good to have Cutts back is that he knows the job.
Cutts has been at it a long time and he knows what it takes to do the job effectively. Going back to the Penguin snafu with John Mueller, Cutts would know better than to make an announcement about a refresh being fully rolled out before it was absolute.
Also, Cutts already has a familiarity with the SEO community and the issues that are important to us. Matt understands that many people look to him for information, and this might contribute to why he is so careful with his words.
Is he perfect? Not by any means (e.g. the guest blogging fiasco). But there is a certain comfort level with Cutts that I believe is more conducive to open communication.
It’s definitely possible that Google could find someone to work as an intermediary as well as or even better than Cutts, but so far during his absence that hasn’t been the case.
Don’t get me wrong, by no means do I think Matt Cutts and the role he plays as Google’s head of webspam is perfect. Cutts is frustratingly vague, and I have found myself disagreeing with his actions in terms of manual penalties more than once.
However, I still believe there is some value in what he does and feel the SEO community could benefit from his return to Google. Here are my reasons:
- Google provides limited information to SEOs, and Cutts helped improve that
- While Matt is typically vague and ambiguous in his statements, the insights are better than nothing
- Having one point of contact at Google (Cutts) makes things easier
- Cutts already has a familiarity with the job and the SEO community