Hello all - I have the pleasure of being at SMX Advanced, and attended the annual You & A with Matt Cutts. I wanted to report the events while they're fresh in my mind (bad photo and all).
First off, Matt had announcements that he sprinkled throughout the entire event (to make it easier for us to report - thanks Matt!). Before I report anything however, a disclaimer: bear in mind that all of this was captured with hand written notes. I undoubtedly missed some pieces, and this write up isn't perfect. It is as close as I could get it, however.
I'll give you the simplified list of Matt's announcements:
- There will be a Payday Loan Update soon - as early as tomorrow or possibly later this week. Cutts kept referring to this as Payday Loan 2.0, although when Danny asked about the recent update Cutts jokingly called it 2.0A. He then clarified that the earlier update focused on spammy websites and this will focus on spammy queries.
- Google engineers are working on improving reconsideration requests. Currently Web Spam Analysts can't add much if anything to the response. Engineers are working to change the template to give Web Spam Analysts space to write in additional comments and provide additional feedback.
- Web Master Tools is being improved in a variety of ways, including fetch as Google, better robots.txt issue reporting, and helping make site moves easier.
- Google is close to getting IE8 referring data back (they'll still show mostly as not provided, but it will correctly show the visitor as coming from Google search).
- Cutts reemphasized the importance of mobile, and that it's growing faster than anyone expected.
Danny Sullivan's Questions for Matt Cutts
Danny Sullivan, as typical for the You & A, had some great questions for Matt Cutts. There were quite a few questions directly relevant to link building, as an entire industry. However I'll be listing these in chronological order. Disclaimer: once again, these are based on my interpretations and notes. Take that as you will.
Q1: Meta Filter - What really happened?
Cutts: It wasn't Panda, nor was it Penguin. In fact, it was a different algorithm that undeservedly punished Meta Filter. We're always on the lookout to improve our algorithms, and this is on our radar. It's not due to link disavow requests.
Q2: Panda rolled out the same time as Payday Loan 2.0. This simultaenous rollout undoubtedly caused some confusion. Why don't you tell webmasters which algorithm is impacting their sites? Especially Penguin and Panda?
Cutts: The Panda and Payday Loan 2.0 were rolled out so close due to internal issues - that's not typical. With 500 different algorithmic signals they have to draw a line as far as alerting webmasters about which are affecting their site. As for alerting webmasters about Panda or Penguin, that's good feedback.
Q3: Why not have your own alert/weather system similar to Mozcast? Surely you get tired of people always guessing a new algorithm update came out.
Cutts: We do try to officially confirm new updates, so people know.
Q4: Any (unannounced) Penguin updates since October?
Cutts: No. It's something that's on our radar though.
Q5: (Sullivan tells a story about getting a comment spam link removal request at Marketing Land). "The link walk of shame" - why make webmasters go to all that effort to get links removed instead of just being allowed to disavow?
Cutts: Spam needs to be punished. If we simply allowed sites to disavow once they were caught it'd create a whole new system of churn and burn black hat SEO. We can't encourage that.
Q6: (something about keyword data loss) and what about Webmaster Tool data for a year? Are we ever going to get that?
Cutts: (appears slightly embarrassed) Sorry, unfortunately no announcements about that right now.
Q7: You declared guest blogging for links dead. A prominent company is still doing it (potentially implied something about an agency being caught?).
Cutts: (sarcastically) Surprisingly it takes a while for people to learn. We are willing to punish guest post abuse though.
Q8: Is link building just dead? You keep saying a new tactic is dead, or must be nofollowed, is it really you just don't want people to try to build links at all?
Cutts: No, link building is not dead. And a very small percentage of links on the web are nofollowed. There's a lot of mileage left in links.
(Danny clarifies that he doesn't mean links in general, but instead people building links).
Cutts: Duane Forrester had an article on Bing's Webmaster Blog (this one) that said you should never know a link is coming - that's the wrong path. That's going a little bit far. Really, do compelling stuff and your links will take care of themselves - if you're doing great stuff you won't always know about the links you will get. Add value. "It's easier to be real, than it is to fake real."
Note from me: Cutts here made a point of saying that links aren't by any means "dead". Nor is link building wrong. Danny Sullivan made a point to directly ask if we shouldn't be building links, ever. And Cutts said that's not Google's intention. But as always he wanted to emphasize creating compelling content.
Q9: In that recent Webmaster Video about assessing the quality of content without links you seemed noncommittal. Is it really possible?
Cutts: Search engines operated that way before Google and they got it right about 80% of the time - so yes, it's possible. But it is hard.
Q10: Author Rank. Is it being used in anything besides In-Depth Articles?
Cutts: "Can't reveal the secret sauce." The long term trend is the data will be used more. Can't reveal if it's used no, or the timeline.
Q11: What about user engagement signals? Things like bounce rate, dwell time? Are those or will they be part of the algo?
Cutts: In general we're open to looking at signals, but I'm heavily skeptic of those signals. When I was first Head of Webspam the first thing I did was implement a quasi up or down vote system in search results to report satisfaction with the result. What I found was 85% of all votes were positive - they were being heavily manipulated. People made click rings. The data from user engagement signals will naturally be noise and skewed, and easy to manipulate.
Q12: When do sites get a boost for SSL (https://)?
Cutts: Not yet. But I'm a fan of getting the web as secure as possible, particularly in light of Snowden.
Q13: Can we get clarification on the expiration of manual actions? Do they ever really expire?
Cutts: If Google gives you a manual action, it has an expiration time on it. The length depends on the severity of the manipulation. We don't review the website the day before the penalty expires to see if you've fixed the issue - we just assume we'll catch you again shortly if you don't.
Q14: What about the KG carousel? You start clicking around and you lose your original search. Pretty soon you're lost and confused and trapped in the carousel. It's crazy.
Cutts: I've never experienced, but that's good feedback.
Q15: Is Google+ dead?
Q16: Are G+ signals being used more in search?
Cutts: No, only in personalized results.
Q17: No social signals in the algorithm? At all? (Sullivan asked in a very detailed manner).
Cutts: No, there aren't any social signals outside of normal crawl, with nofollow and all of that attached.
Q18: Right to be forgotten (he made a reference to Matt being against it, I believe)
Cutts: Bad people are going to use it - hearing requests from pedophiles, murders, etc.
Q19: Can I re-avow a disavow? Can I make Google forget the disavow?
Cutts: Yes, but there's a substantial timeline involved to prevent spamming. You can upload a new disavow file without the previous link in order to remove it from the links you're disavowing - essentially re-avowing the link.
Q20: What's best for mobile - responsive?
Cutts: Responsive is generally best, but if you're smart you can make a lot of different things work.
Q21: Why 302 over 301 redirects? (I believe he was asking about mobile? Missed part of this).
Cutts: It's supposed to be temporary, so you can undo if you change your mind.
Q22: What about mobile speed? Is that a strong ranking factor for mobile search?
Cutts: Only a negative signal if your site responds slowly to mobile.
Q23: You share a lot of great information, but your audience is mostly SEOs.
Cutts: We've actually been doing a lot of soul searching about that. We want to do a better job reaching out to small businesses.
Q24: What about negative SEO?
Cutts: We're very aware of it, but won't confirm it exists. The algo is specifically designed against it. For example the recent Payday Loan is especially safeguarded against it.
Q25: What about monitoring/preventing negative SEO?
Cutts: Google alerts is very effective - monitor your brand/website and spammy things like Viagra, poker, payday loans, etc.
Q26: (missed the question - I believe it was about the future of search?)
Cutts: Hummingbird, natural language. (Cutts then gives a long demonstration using Google's voice search function and natural language. Started with a question about the Space Needle, and then went on to continue to ask 10 or so other questions about things relevant to it, ending with getting directions to specifically an Italian restaurant within a mile of the Space Needle. It was actually very impressive, and everyone clapped.)
Q27: When will natural language like that be available for desktop? I've had issues with that.
Cutts: I believe it should be the same on desktop as it is currently on mobile. However, as we continue to improve mobile, desktop will continue to improve as well.
Q29: BuzzFeed - they have outstanding Google rankings. Why are they special?
Cutts: That's the Lake Wobegon effect. (Matt does a demonstration asking who in the audience is a below average drive - almost no one raises their hand. Same with below average website - again, no one). In fact, BuzzFeed has sent us a letter saying they should have higher rankings.
Q30: Is Google going to take action against black hat tactics for third party websites (specifically to get user's pages to rank higher) like YouTube?
Cutts: We always have our ears open, and always working to get better. We're looking into the current YouTube situation and are aware of questionable tactics.
Cutts: Building links can be risky, but it is certainly possible to do white hat. Usually it's called being excellent. There's no cheats, no shortcuts. It's hard work, sweat plus creativity.
Cutts: don't treat crawlers differently than users.
Q33: Is there such a thing as the opposite of a penalty? A search boost?
Cutts: No. No exception lists in general in the algo. No exception lists for Panda. (Cutts did make a brief mention of potentially having a list of sites that should be reviewed if they're swept up in a new algo update. That seemed more like QA for the algo than actually treating websites differently, though.)
Q34: I've seen a site recover from a manual penalty without filing a reconsideration request. How is that possible? Do we always have to fill out a reconsideration request?
Cutts: That was probably the penalty timing out.
Q35: Favorite 30 day challenge?
Cutts: I've enjoyed a lot. My favorite was probably biking, because before that I disliked biking. Now I really enjoy it, actually bike to work often. It's changed my mindset, and I'm healthier.
Q36: Any parting words?
Cutts: Get ready for mobile, it's happening faster than anyone anticipated. I expect mobile search to overtake desktop in a relatively short timeframe. I like to keep track of devices I see being used on my flights - coming out I say 10 devices plus 3 laptops on the plane.
Q37: Dream job (outside of your current job)?
Cutts: Well, I probably owe it to my wife to decide at this point. We made the decision that we'd try out Google for a few years - four or so. I've gotten an extra decade out of that. But generally there's something about evil and corruption that draws me in - there's a lot of it in this world and I'd probably be drawn to solving or fixing it as best I could.
Quick (and Dirty) Analysis
A few things that really stood out to me throughout the interview.
- You can remove (or re-avow) a link from your disavow file, although it takes considerable time for Google to process.
- Mobile is huge, and is continuing to grow. Once again Matt made sure to comment on this.
- Natural search is even better than I thought. Among my friends and family I'm often requested to Google things for them (on my phone) because I often take advantage of voice search and thus can more efficiently search. So I'm fairly aware of it's capabilities, but I have to say I was blown away by Matt's off-the-cuff demonstration.
- Links are still very much alive, and Cutts stood behind them a surprising degree. Not only did Danny Sullivan directly ask if links were dead, but if we just plain shouldn't be building them anymore (which could have left open the whole "earning" angle). In both instances Cutts stood behind links and link building, although he used his usual language about building great experiences and content.
- Link building services as well were supported by Matt Cutts, albeit with the usual caveats. Surprisingly, I found myself nodding along with Cutts when he talked about the hard work of building links, the need for excellence, and especially the line about sweat + creativity. I would have never believed Cutts and I had the same position on building links.
- Google doesn't examine your site on the last day of a manual penalty. They're good enough that they assume they'll just catch you again if you don't fix the problem.