Google’s Matt Cutts: The Big Interview

He started off as a computer graphics guy and went on to become a Google guy. Not just any Google guy, though. He could well have been quoted in all the industry press and forums and blogs more than Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin.

How many people blog at Google? All of them, possibly. But which personal Google blog does everyone in the SEO industry watch?

Yes, it’s Matt Cutts. Go to any SEO conference and look for Matt’s cutlets. Yes, there’s a nickname already for the train of people which follow his every move. Even going to the restroom is difficult for Matt. Someone’s bound to ask while he’s there (concentrating on things in hand), “do you do a 301 or 302 redirect?”

In my last column, I mentioned the industrial strength interview I did with Matt at a couple of different locations. I flew into the UK for a few brief days to “top and tail” the two part interview before heading off to Hong Kong. I was fascinated at just how open Matt was with his answers.

I realized after listening to the recordings that we could have talked for another hour. So many other questions sprang to mind as afterthoughts.

What blew me away listening to the recording was just how much of a marketing advocate Matt is. Sure, he has just about every answer to every question about technical issues, such as server problems and crawling barriers. But there’s one comment Matt made in response to something I said which encapsulates my entire philosophical, personal and professional view of what good SEO should be, and really is, all about.

And I’m leaving it as the very last comment in this column.

Let me just pull out some highlight comments, most of which are on topics I’ve written about over the past few months. I feel certain they’ll resonate a lot more coming from Matt. And he’s much less likely to be hounded down by a bunch of SEO tech heads baying for a public flogging for having an opinion, as I am after each column I write.

Is PageRank such a big deal? Can you value a link on a page by its PageRank? Matt says:

“There are over 100 factors in ranking. And PageRank is just one of them. It’s an important factor, but it’s by no means the be-all and end-all.

To me that shows the danger of short-sighted thinking and getting obsessed with just one facet of things, and not the facet which matters most. So paying attention to the content on your site, building good stuff, those are the things that will help. Not “can I get my PageRank higher with one more sprinkle of green fairy dust?” or something like that.

The best links are those which are editorially chosen. Linked because of the site’s merit. Some of the best SEOs these days are those who are really good at buzz marketing, viral marketing, and word-of-mouth marketing.

Tactics like lavishing on reciprocal links; or reciprocal links don’t work as well — let’s try this fad called triangular linking; or let’s try buying links; all these sorts of things. These are not the sort of links that are best for your site. They’re certainly more high risk. Buying links is extremely risky. It falls outside of our guidelines, unless you add a no-follow tag. And that’s a very simple way to say, “You know what? I only wanted the traffic. I’m not concerned with search engines.”

I talked with Matt about crawling the Web. I’ve been taken out of context on the point I make about “doing the search engines’ job.” I understand that at this point, we have to meet search engines in the middle to help them along. But it’s an effort we should only make until they can do a better job of crawling the Web. Then they’ll leave the marketers to do just that.

Matt says:

“To be completely clear, I think it is our job to try and index sites as they exist on the Web as much as we can. So maybe a mom-and-pop who buys a database or uses cookies or session IDs in the URLs, they shouldn’t have to worry about search engines. And so we do as much as we can to try and crawl those things smarter.

A lot of the time it’s something as simple as cooperating with bulletin board software makers, for instance, so that you can strip a session ID and things will still show up fine. I totally agree, we try to do our best so, for example, something like JavaScript. We’re better at crawling JavaScript than we were even a month ago.”

What’s a sandbox, Matt?

“Some people have asked, “does this apply to newer sites?” Essentially, the way to think about it is, around 2003 Google switched to a new method of updating its index. Before that we had monthly Google dances. So as a result, new data is always being folded into the index. It’s not like there was one pivotal moment when anyone cans say, “Hah! This is the change!” In fact, even at different data centers we have different binaries, different algorithms, different types of data always being tested.

“I think a lot of what’s perceived as the sandbox is artefacts where, in our indexing, some data may take longer to be computed than other data.”

Do you really want to wait 9 months at Google for good, relevant data to become available. Or would you like to produce fresh new stuff as soon as it’s available?

“Well we do want it there as soon as it’s available. In fact, some things like our news crawl and blog search can find stuff within minutes of it being live. So there’s always a tradeoff between how much do you trust certain pages how much do you rank certain pages. And the best advice I can give is don’t worry or over think or try to strategize too hard over is — or isn’t — there a sandbox. Just make a great site, with great content and a normal reason why people would want to link to you and visit your site. A compelling reason why people would want to link to your site. And that’s going to help you capture the mind of the blogosphere and that’s really the best way to let search engines find out about you too.”

Last column I talked about textbook SEO and how important it is for ranking, i.e. is it possible to rank without on-page paraphernalia? I even gave an example. I told Matt I often tease a conference audience with this question: Is it possible to rank at Google without your page ever having been crawled? Matt says:

“Oh, it’s absolutely possible. We see it all the time. We call them partially indexed URLs. When it’s the frontier of the crawl and we’ve seen a reference to it, but we haven’t fetched the URL itself.”

I said I’d leave, what for me, was Matt’s most outstanding comment. It was his response to my saying to him at one point “you mean marketing?”

To which he replied:

“It’s interesting how much of SEO can comes back to good, old fashioned marketing.”

You can hear the audio version of the entire (lengthy) interviews: Part 1 and Part 2.

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